EAST NAPLES — A coalition of Collier County leaders delivered a letter to Sheriff Kevin Rambosk on Monday, urging him to end the 287(g) program.
Signed by 41 area leaders, it was presented by Angela Cisneros, a community member and volunteer of the Collier County Neighborhood Stories project, to sheriff's Commander Michael Williams.
"We have witnessed firsthand the widespread distrust and fear bred among families in our community due to the 287(g) program, and we know that your office's continued participation in it will lamentably exacerbate this trend," the letter states.
The 287(g) program, which went into effect in Collier in June 2007, allows county deputies to act as immigration enforcers, a policy that led to deportation proceedings for more than 3,500 undocumented immigrants from the county in five years.
Rambosk remains committed to the 287(g) program to continue detaining undocumented immigrants and plans to renew it this month.
"It's important to remember that the 287(g) partnership is a national program carefully administered by a federal agency using current laws," Rambosk said in a statement Monday. "We have implemented this program sensibly and have employed best practices to ensure that it is administered fairly and in accordance with the law. In fact, the recent editorial in the Naples Daily News that was quoted in the letter submitted to me today calls CCSO's 287(g) program a model for the rest of the state and country."
Sheriff Don Hunter, now the police chief in Marco Island, signed off on the agreement initially.
"The results we have experienced since implementing the program in 2007 support its continuation," Rambosk said in the statement. "The approximately 4,200 individuals who have been placed on detainer in Collier County are responsible for more than 27,200 crimes committed in Collier County and other areas of the United States."
Countering Rambosk, Gloria Padilla, area coordinator for Redlands Christian Migrant Association, said as working immigrant families are separated due to the 287(g) program and its deportations, more people are afraid to call police to report a crime or seek help.
"The fear in Immokalee is getting worse and worse," said Padilla, who works with family members who have been separated by deportation.
The Sheriff's Office responded that it's reaching out to the community to create good-will.
"We conduct ongoing community outreach efforts to reassure witnesses and victims of crime that they will not be targeted by law enforcement based on their immigration status," Rambosk said in a prepared statement. "Illegal immigrants who are victims of certain crimes also have the option of applying for a U visa, which protects them from enforcement of immigration law."
On Monday, Padilla read a letter written by an 8-year-old whose father recently was deported.
"There is no need for this. Our families are not terrorists. Our families are not the kind of people that are going to go out and cause malice in our community," Padilla said. "They just want to be here. They want to work. They want to be part of our community."
It's not only migrants in Immokalee who are affected by 287(g).
Immigration attorney Alexander Vernon, acting director of the Ave Maria School of Law's Asylum and Immigrant Rights Law Clinic, said almost half of those identified for deportation in Collier County are people with low-level misdemeanors, traffic infractions and in some cases no criminal violations at all, simply immigration violations.
Vernon, who doesn't support renewal of the program, said the federal government is reducing funding for 287(g).
Grey Torrico, a Collier-based activist and community organizer who works with illegal immigrants, hopes Rambosk will reconsider renewing the 287(g) program.
"It's surprising that the sheriff continues to back a program that only 2.2 percent of the nation opts to use and in some places, is showing signs of discriminatory effects, so much so the Department of Justice had to step in and do something about it," she said.
The group plans to present more than 1,200 signatures urging Rambosk not to renew the 287(g) program in the coming weeks.
"In a community which has such a large immigrant population, it is divisive, and disrespectful to the community, to have the Sheriff's Office also work as ICE agents," attorney Albert Batista said in an email. "It is not constructive to be putting an ICE hold on people who only have a traffic violation, or a misdemeanor.
"Unfortunately, for those working-class people, the ICE hold will cause them to lose their jobs, possibly their homes, and perhaps their families."
But Rambosk said 287(g) is a good policy for law-abiders.
"I remain committed to identifying and apprehending all individuals who commit criminal acts in Collier County," he said in the statement. "Law-abiding people — regardless of their immigration status — don't want criminals living in their neighborhoods. By removing criminals from our community we are keeping Collier County safe."