Pinellas County on May 6 became the first Florida county to sign up for the Warrant Service Officer program (WSO), which gives deputized officers limited powers to act like ICE agents.
According to ICE, several other jurisdictions have shown interest in the program, which trains officers to serve federal warrants and hold jailed aliens for 48 hours before they are picked up by federal authorities.
WSO was developed at the request of the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Major County Sheriffs of America, according to an ICE statement, to “allow jurisdictions prohibited from honoring immigration detainers to cooperate with ICE.”
In other words, it is a way for law enforcement to work within “sanctuary” legislation that blocks them from cooperating with attempts to deport illegal immigrants accused of other crimes.
The WSO program is also intended to provide extra resources to rural counties which would otherwise struggle to cooperate with ICE requests.
“Policies that limit cooperation with ICE undermine public safety, prevent the agency from executing its federally mandated mission and increase the risks for officers forced to make at-large arrests in unsecure locations,” said Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence in a statement.
“The WSO program will protect communities from criminal aliens who threaten vulnerable populations with violence, drugs and gang activity by allowing partner jurisdictions the flexibility to make immigration arrests in their jail or correctional facility.”
So-called “sanctuary” policies use various means to frustrate requests from ICE to local law enforcement called “detainers.”
A detainer asks local law enforcement to notify immigration officials 48 hours before an illegal alien is due to be released from jail. A detainer also provides authority for local law enforcement to detain them for a further two days after their jail sentence has expired, to give ICE time to make an arrest.
Sanctuary laws typically target the legal framework that underpins detainers, opening up deputies to potential legal action if they co-operate.
The WSO provides a legal workaround to the sanctuary city legislations, reducing the liability of local deputies wishing to cooperate with ICE.
“Sheriff’s deputies will be trained and certified by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to serve federal warrants on undocumented inmates…. ICE plans to expand the WSO program to the rest of the state and, eventually, the country.”https://t.co/fb9szSyJm2
— Mark Mendlovitz (@MendlovitzMark) May 7, 2019
Under the WSO program, officers will be able to serve an administrative warrant and execute an arrest on behalf of ICE, which then has 48 hours to take the alien into custody.
“WSO officers will only make arrests within the confines of the jail at which they work, and ICE will still issue immigration detainers with partner jurisdictions,” said ICE.
WSO officers will not question individuals about their citizenship, alienage or removability, nor will they process aliens, according to ICE.
The WSO program has been criticized by activists groups that support sanctuary polices as part of ICE’s “deportation agenda.”
“This program is just the latest scheme by ICE to enlist local police in its abusive deportation agenda,” said Lorella Praeli, deputy political director at the American Civil Liberties Union in a statement. “The agency explicitly aims to subvert the will of local communities that have passed ordinances to prevent exactly this kind of cooperation between police and ICE.”
Critics say that the program violates Fourth amendment rights—the same accusation made against other ICE operations.
But local law enforcement say the program is very limited in scope.
“The majority of people we’re going to deal with in this program come here to commit crime. They don’t come here and they’re illegal and, whoops they get caught,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told Fox news.
“In order for this to apply to you, you have to go out and commit a burglary, commit a robbery, commit some sort of a state law violation or something else you are arrested for that winds you up in a county jail,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told Fox.
National Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jonathan Thompson. “It will not only decrease sheriff’s liability but will give them the proper training to enforce the law.”