CLEARWATER, Fl. -- When it comes to deporting criminals who are in this country illegally, you would think local sheriff’s agencies and ICE agents would be on the same page.
In theory, they are, but they’re also increasingly in a legal standoff over how to make that happen.
“We still have to follow the law. Two wrongs don't make a right,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, taking a stand against ICE on behalf of his own agency and others.
Gualtieri says under the Trump administration, ICE is once again pushing local agencies like his to hold illegal immigrants using requests called detainers.
“We cannot enforce immigration laws. We cannot hold somebody unless there's legal process in place. Those detainers are clearly not it. The courts have said it's not it,” Gualtieri says.
In fact, Gualtieri says, several courts have made it clear they can't legally keep an inmate -- even those here illegally -- beyond their court-ordered incarceration.
“That's not something I get to decide, is that, yes, people who are in this country illegally do have constitutional rights. Like it or not. That's a fact. And that's the law,” says the sheriff. “If somebody walks in front of me right now and tells me that they are here in this country is illegally, there's nothing I can do about it. We have no authority, we have no laws, we have no jurisdiction and there's nothing we can do.”
The sheriff says if he decided to skirt the law, it might be politically popular, but it could also put taxpayers on the hook for expensive civil lawsuits. People detained beyond their incarceration dates have successfully sued, he says, for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It’s not right for us to take chances with people’s civil liberties. It's not right for us to take chances with the taxpayer’s dollars and say, well, we're going to ignore the law. We’ll take a chance on this,” says Gualtieri.
Fueling the feud, Gualtieri says an executive order now requires the Department of Homeland Security to publish the names each week of sheriffs and jails that won't honor ICE's request.
The Center for Immigration Studies has then taken that list and labeled those on it as sanctuary cities.
It’s a shaming tactic, says the sheriff, meant to apply political pressure.
“This list is improper. This list is really a bullying list,” saysGualtieri. “What they're doing is, ICE is visiting these sheriffs in the state of Florida and saying you either honor our detainers, or we're going to put you on a list. That's not the way to do things. It's not the way to have partnerships. It's not the way to cooperate.”
Other sheriff’s offices in the region have also been on the list as a result of enforcing current law.
Gualtieri recently found what he thinks is a legal solution which could serve as a model.
“We have a contract with the Marshals Service and with ICE, where we can hold the people, and then what they're doing is taking them into their custody and we are just holding them for them. Which is different, than the whole detainer warrant process, because then we're having to exercise some authority that we don't have.”
The Pinellas sheriff hopes says there are other legal solutions out there as well, and hopes the two sides can get on the same page, since they’re both working toward the same goal.
“We want ICE to be able to do its job and be able to deport these people and get them out of here so they're not committing crimes and wreaking havoc,” says Gualtieri, “But, at the same time, we can't be doing something that unlawful as well. We have an obligation to follow the law.”