Rambosk plans to renew detention agreement with U.S.; petition urges cancellation

Sgt. Chris Dasher, the supervisor for the Criminal Alien Task Forced department of the Collier County Sheriff's Office, looks at a list of alien criminals in December of 2009 that have been picked up under the 287(g) partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Lexey Swall/Staff

Photo by LEXEY SWALL // Buy this photo

Sgt. Chris Dasher, the supervisor for the Criminal Alien Task Forced department of the Collier County Sheriff's Office, looks at a list of alien criminals in December of 2009 that have been picked up under the 287(g) partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Lexey Swall/Staff

Sheriff Kevin Rambosk

Sheriff Kevin Rambosk

— Despite dissent from local activists, Collier County's sheriff says an agreement between his agency and federal authorities to continue detaining undocumented immigrants will be renewed in October.

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.

"I'm still in favor of it for Collier County," Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said.

Although then- Sheriff Don Hunter signed off on the agreement initially, its first renewal in 2009 was part of Rambosk's campaign platform in his 2008 election. The sheriff is up for re-election Nov. 6.

"It works well if you have a very tight governance on your program, and we do. We follow the rules and follow the law," Rambosk said.

There is nationwide scrutiny of the program, however, with allegations that it instills fear in immigrant communities, results in low-priority deportations, and divides families.

Grey Torrico, a Collier-based activist and community organizer who works with illegal immigrants, said programs like 287(g) engender mistrust of law enforcement.

"We're supposed to be feeling safe, calling and reporting crimes. But a lot of the community doesn't feel like that," Torrico said.

In anticipation of the renewal date, Torrico's Collier County Neighborhood Stories Project is spearheading an online petition in English and Spanish asking Rambosk to discontinue the program. A link to the petition is posted on the project's Facebook page.

Grey Torrico, Collier County Neighborhood Stories Project

Grey Torrico, Collier County Neighborhood Stories Project

"We have witnessed first-hand the widespread distrust and fear bred among the families in our community due to the 287g program, and we know that your office's continued participation in it will lamentably exacerbate this trend," the petition reads.

In addition to the virtual petition, which 193 people signed as of Sept. 14, Torrico hopes by the end of the month to present the sheriff with a letter signed by community members.

Daniel Dix, who owns a cafe and pub in Ave Maria, is one of 15 local business owners, directors of nonprofits, clergy members, teachers and doctors to sign the letter.

"I'm a Republican — have been my whole life. And I'm often disturbed by my party's vitriol in how they address the immigrant issue in the country," Dix said. "Over the years, I've known some of these (undocumented) people … I think often when you get to know people and know their stories, it not only changes your opinion, it changes your heart."

The 1996 passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act allowed state law enforcement officers to undergo training and be deputized to perform the federal function of detaining illegal immigrants.

When an arrest is made by the Collier County Sheriff's Office and the arrested person is determined to be undocumented, ICE is notified and takes over the removal proceedings.

Across the U.S., more than 1,300 officers have been trained during a four-week program and certified under 287(g), 18 of whom are with the Collier County Sheriff's Office. Nationwide, ICE maintains 68 active agreements with agencies in 24 states, four of which are in Florida. Lee County doesn't participate in 287(g).

Across the U.S., more than 1,300 officers have been trained during a four-week program and certified under 287(g), 18 of whom are with the Collier County Sheriff's Office. Nationwide, ICE maintains 68 active agreements with agencies in 24 states, four of which are in Florida. Lee County doesn't participate in 287(g).

Rambosk said he is awaiting the new agreement from ICE. It then will be reviewed by the Sheriff's Office legal department before he signs on to extend the program, likely for another three years.

The memorandum of agreement the Collier County Sheriff's Office currently operates under was signed in October 2009 by ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton and Rambosk.

It gives trained Collier deputies the power to "identify and process immigration violators and conduct criminal investigations under ICE supervision" and establishes reimbursement for the detention of jailed undocumented immigrants.

From the 2008 fiscal year to June, those reimbursements from the federal government totaled $1.3 million, according to a program report.

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, has scaled back on 287(g) nationally. It dealt a major blow in June to Arizona, hobbling the state's participation in the agreement.

Instead, Homeland Security recently has favored the Secure Communities program, which allows for the fingerprints of individuals arrested by local law enforcement agencies to be cross-referenced with those in Homeland Security databases. The program doesn't rely on deputized local police forces for immigration enforcement, as 287(g) does.

Within the Collier County Sheriff's Office, the Criminal Alien Task Force that oversees 287(g) activity includes the 18 deputized officers divided into two teams, investigations and corrections. In a June 2012 report, the task force labeled as "myths" allegations that the program is "racist" and lowers crime reporting rates in illegal immigrant communities.

The task force admits, however, that the "chilling effect" on the undocumented population is "hard to prove or disprove."

Federal guidelines issued in June 2011 prioritize the deportation of violent offenders, repeat immigration law violators, and undocumented immigrants with extensive criminal records, among other considerations.

But Torrico and other activists believe that low-priority cases, such as traffic offenses and non-violent misdemeanors, are swept up by 287(g) and Secure Communities in Collier, often leading to deportation.

"We all agree that the biggest thing is the pervasive fear," she said. Illegal immigrants are "always looking behind their back, trying to figure out if they are going to be stopped on their way to work."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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