SPLC condemns Florida law enforcement agency’s involvement in immigration enforcement

Hillsborough is one of 17 Florida counties that has partnered with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in a new model for enforcing immigration detainers. Under a Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA), the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office holds individuals for 48 hours after they have served their time on local charges, when ICE determines that they may be subject to deportation. In return, ICE pays Hillsborough $50 per detainee.

Hillsborough County may be breaking the law. Federal courts across the country have concluded that local enforcement of immigration detainers – requests from ICE to hold individuals who are otherwise eligible for release – is unconstitutional. Although ICE and Florida sheriffs claim that this new partnership protects local law enforcement from committing constitutional violations, a mere change in paperwork and payment cannot circumvent the Fourth Amendment.

In response to this recent announcement from Hillsborough County, the Southern Poverty Law Center has demanded information from all 17 counties and ICE to help Floridians better understand how these BOAs operate.  

ICE has admitted that immigration detainers are requests, not orders. Counties do not have to honor them, and in fact many counties have refused to do so. This is for two reasons: because so many jurisdictions have been found liable for wrongfully enforcing detainers, and because local law enforcement agencies recognize that their job is to protect – not exploit – the communities they serve. What’s more, alienating immigrants discourages them from communicating with the police, and reduces public safety for everyone. 

Yet Hillsborough County has chosen to ignore public concerns and forge a dangerous new partnership with ICE. Members of the immigrant community throughout Florida have expressed fear of calling police to report crimes or provide information about criminals when they know their officers work with ICE. In practice, these partnerships lead directly to the separation of families and the removal of immigrants who have been part of our Florida communities for decades. Collaboration with immigration enforcement makes everyone less safe.