BROOKSVILLE — On a day when the U.S. House of Representatives was expected to block President Donald Trump’s effort to build a border wall, Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated his support for Trump’s immigration crackdown and urged greater state and local cooperation with federal officials.
Yet DeSantis seemed to suggest that Trump, one of his top political allies, would fall short of building his wall.
“I’m not necessarily optimistic that you’re ultimately going to see the things get done that need to get done,” DeSantis told reporters during a Tuesday news conference in Herando County. “But we’re going to do our part here in Florida to protect folks.”
Speaking at the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, DeSantis praised the agency for efforts to work more closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Earlier this year, two Hernando deputies were certified in a federal program that allows them to act as immigration agents and check the citizenship of people booked into county jail — the first step in the deportation process.
Hernando is the fifth sheriff’s office in Florida to get the certification. Pasco County is the only other certified office in Tampa Bay.
DeSantis said he’s directed state law enforcement to look for other ways to cooperate with federal immigration officials, and voiced support for Senate Bill 168, which aims to expand cooperation between federal officials and local agencies. He pointed to such collaborations as pivotal in tightening immigration enforcement while downplaying the demand it would place on the local agencies.
“They are not transforming their sheriff’s departments into an immigration agency,” DeSantis said. “But when you have somebody who’s in their custody, who has done something that they’re going to be held accounted for, and they’re not here legally, it makes sense to be able to seamlessly work with the federal authorities, so that they’re not released back into society.”
But some advocates for immigrants took exception to DeSantis’ call for greater cooperation as an unwelcome intrusion into local matters and a violation of civil rights.
Current federal policies “enable illegal racial profiling and civil rights abuses, divert limited resources from local law enforcement functions and distort immigration enforcement priorities,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said in a statement. “Counties should be pushing back on pressures to becoming part of a deportation force, not enabling it.”
“Local law enforcement officials should continue to make decisions about the level of their involvement with immigration based on what is in the best interest of their local community, not based on a political agenda out of Tallahassee that removes their local decision process,” said Karen Woodall, executive director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.
DeSantis repeated his insistence, without elaborating, that some local jurisdictions weren’t cooperating or were actively obstructing deportation efforts.
“The biggest problems I’ve seen have been when local law enforcement,” DeSantis said. “Local communities will not cooperate.”
On the subject of the wall, DeSantis on Tuesday said he hasn’t talked to Trump on the subject recently, but that he pointed to his support for a wall before he left Congress to run for governor last year. He blamed partisanship for blocking it.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, whose deputies were certified to work with immigration officials last summer, emphasized that the cooperation only gives deputies authority in proceedings that take place after arrests have already been made. He said deputies aren’t going into communities to track down undocumented immigrants. He promised that undocumented people who seek the help of law enforcement or who have witnessed crimes will not subsequently be turned over to federal authorities.
Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis said closer cooperation with federal officials will prevent some crimes, and that he believes it’ll make work more efficient for agencies on every level.
“What it allows agencies to do is free up (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to deal with some of the more higher priority issues they have to deal with,” he said. “It is going to be a way for us to help maintain the rule of law here in Hernando County and in the state of Florida.”