Small group protests Collier County Sheriff's illegal immigration program

Immigration activist Filipe Matos, 24, calls for an end to the 287(g) immigration program in the Collier County Sheriff's Office at a press conference at the Collier County Courthouse on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010 in Naples. Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act gives law enforcement agencies the ability to train their employees to act as immigration agents. David Albers/Staff

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Immigration activist Filipe Matos, 24, calls for an end to the 287(g) immigration program in the Collier County Sheriff's Office at a press conference at the Collier County Courthouse on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010 in Naples. Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act gives law enforcement agencies the ability to train their employees to act as immigration agents. David Albers/Staff

287(g) protest in front of Collier courthouse

A small group of immigration activists protested ...

Racial profiling.

Unreported hate crimes.

Families separated and parents deported for making “insignificant” mistakes.

A group of fewer than 10 immigration activists made a litany of accusations against the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement in general on Thursday afternoon during a press conference in front of the Collier County courthouse. They called for comprehensive immigration reform and the end of the Sheriff’s Office’s 3-year-old 287(g) program, which gives trained deputies the federal authority to act as immigration and deportation agents.

However, when asked for evidence to back up their accusations against the controversial program, the activists had little to offer.

“We’re looking for the data right now,” said Felipe Matos, 24, an undocumented immigrant from Brazil and a national organizer for the Basta (Enough) 287(g) campaign that’s planning similar stops around the country. “Right now we know the community is very scared, and the community is not reporting crimes.”

When asked for names of people who he believes the Sheriff’s Office deported without warrant, Matos refused.

“I can’t release names because if I was to release names, I would be going against the very will of the people who are scared to come forward right now,” he said.

Since the inception of 287(g) in Collier County in 2007, the Sheriff’s Office has placed nearly 2,700 immigration detainers on illegal immigrants for removal from the country, the agency reports. The Sheriff’s Office’s 287(g) program has two sides, a corrections program which checks the immigration status of everyone booked into the jail, as well as an investigative program, which targets and arrests criminal aliens with approval from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Sheriff’s Office reports that criminal aliens detained through the corrections program have an average of five prior misdemeanor arrests and one prior felony arrest, while those detained through the investigative program have and average of 7.5 prior misdemeanor arrests and 3.3 prior felony arrests.

“By identifying and removing these individuals from our community we are keeping Collier County citizens and visitors safe,” Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Michelle Batten said in an e-mail.

Rather than keep the community safe, Grey Torrico, 23, of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said the 287(g) program creates “discomfort” for both legal and illegal immigrants.

“Victims of crime are less likely to report, and witnesses are at times too scared to say what they saw,” Torrico said. “Many hardworking families have been torn apart by the deportation of a parent detained for any insignificant mistake. 287(g) is not a solution to the current immigration crisis.

“On the contrary, it has created a climate of racial profiling and community insecurity.”

When asked if he approves of the deportation of violent criminals, Matos said that he only has a problem when “unjust laws get enforced in an unjust manner.” When asked, hypothetically, if he would support deporting an illegal immigrant guilty of rape, Matos said he was unable to give a “concrete answer.”

“I’m not ready to answer that question because I don’t feel comfortable without looking at the whole situation instead of looking at very specific cases like that,” he said.

Matos said that because of 287(g), victims of domestic violence are being booked into jail, another charge the Sheriff’s Office denies.

“We have always encouraged anyone who has evidence of racial profiling to bring it to our attention,” Batten said in an e-mail. “To date, we have not had a single complaint. Additionally, we are not aware of any studies that conclude immigrants are less likely to call police when there is a 287(g) program in place.

“Not a single person has been deported by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for requesting law enforcement assistance.”

The 287(g) program came under fire earlier this year when the Department of Homeland Security inspector general released a report describing the program as haphazardly administered and said it failed to consistently protect the civil rights of immigrants. However, Collier’s program, one of three in the state, has been cited as a model for the country by a high-ranking ICE official.

The organizers of the protest said they are hosting a series of underground workshops Friday and Saturday to teach immigrants how to properly document and report abuses. For more information, contact Grey Torrico at (239) 571-7043 or at greytorrico@gmail.com.

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