NEW PORT RICHEY — A day after his deputies helped apprehend two men sought by U.S. Border Patrol, Pasco Sheriff Bob White renewed his call for stiffer laws and more funding to combat illegal immigration.
"We can't get rid of criminals with extensive criminal history," said White, holding the 24-page arrest record of Alberto Rodriguez Gonzalez, who was captured after fleeing Border Patrol agents. "This is just one more example of what border sheriffs are facing."
Agents tried to stop the men Tuesday morning on Interstate 75, based on suspicions that they were involved in bringing illegal immigrants into Florida, according to U.S. Border Patrol. Gonzalez later told deputies that he and his passenger, Pedro Ferrat, were carrying 13 pounds of marijuana from Arizona, according to an arrest report.
Both men are of Cuban descent, but their U.S. status is murky.
Ferrat, 22, is a non-deportable alien, sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said. He entered the United States from Mexico, and later asked for lawful permanent resident status under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which provides Cubans with several means of legally immigrating to the United States, Tobin said. Border Patrol agents questioned Ferrat on Tuesday but let him go because they had no evidence that he was an illegal immigrant, Tobin said.
Gonzalez, 57, who lives in Douglas, Ariz., has crossed paths with law enforcement in several states. He has previously been charged with carrying concealed weapons, possessing an unregistered firearm, possessing narcotics, armed robbery and burglary, among other charges.
U.S. authorities have ordered him deported back to Cuba. But because the two countries do not maintain diplomatic relations, Gonzalez was allowed to remain in America as a Cuban national under an order of supervision — a status similar to probation that requires him to check in with authorities.
"Here's a guy with a 24-page rap sheet," White said, "who shouldn't even be here."
White has advocated for a stronger law similar to one passed in Arizona, which requires police to check immigration papers of anyone they stop and suspect of being in the United States illegally. That law also empowers officers to detain suspected illegal immigrants.
The measure has become controversial, with opponents saying Hispanics will face increased harassment, even if they are in the country legally.
This is the second time White has jumped into the heated debate over the Arizona law: He first called for Florida to adopt a similar measure in late May, after his deputies arrested two brothers from Mexico and seized $20,000 in drugs from their house in Dade City.
"We're met with a growing drug trade," White said Wednesday. "That just puts American families at risk."
He criticized the federal government for not funding immigration enforcement and seeking to have the Arizona law repealed.
White also took the opportunity to lobby for more funding for his agency next year, saying that he needs extra deputies to handle the local influx of illegal immigrants.
"Now we've also got to contend with Pasco County's portion of illegals bringing in guns and gangs to Pasco," White said. "We'll never be able to ask for enough resources if this continues."
In the course of fleeing Border Patrol, Gonzalez is accused of stealing a red 2001 Ford truck near the Neon Cowboy in Darby, breaking a rear window and a gate along the way. Deputies stopped him as he drove south on I-75 toward Tampa, according to an arrest report.
He was charged with grand theft auto and criminal mischief, and remains at the Land O'Lakes jail in lieu of $5,150.
The jail log indicates he is being held for U.S. Border Patrol.
Vivian Yee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.