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  1. Hernando

Letter writers: Immigration program a bad call by Hernando County Sheriff

Published Mar. 4, 2019

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis found himself basking in the spotlight again last week.

Standing alongside the governor, he announced Hernando County's participation in Immigration and Customs Enforcement's 287(g) program, which empowers the Department of Homeland Security to deputize local law enforcement officers into doing the federal government's dirty work.

Community trust is the most vital asset to local law enforcement. The 287(g) program has been criticized by both the Police Foundation and the International Association of Chiefs of Police for its potential to sever the bonds between departments and the communities they serve.

Ostensibly, participation is meant to make residents "safer." Outside the fever dreams of anti-immigrant paranoia, however, it burdens Hernando County officers with the same conflicted interests as ICE.

When upstanding undocumented residents are terrified of being deported, they are not going to cooperate with law enforcement against drug dealers, human traffickers and labor law violators. Indeed, it is precisely this dual-role that precipitated the calls to "abolish ICE" – not from the "far left" but from within the agency itself – and re-separate the duties of enforcing immigration law and customs law.

What's worse, 287(g) emboldens the worst impulses of officers. Since its inception, the 287(g) program has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum for increasing racial profiling by local departments wherever it has been implemented.

None of that matters to the Sheriff, though.

It's clear from the inane television ads reminding us to lock our doors that Mr. Nienhuis has higher ambitions. With a $10 million hole in the county's budget and officers who are apparently so overwhelmed with free time that the Sheriff is loaning them to the feds, perhaps it's time the Board of County Commissioners considers reallocating some of the nearly $50 million of the county budget that goes to the Sheriff's Office.

Terence Truax, Krystal Nash and Brady Nash, Brooksville