1. Opinion

Column: Hillsborough will not turn sheriff's office into a branch office for ICE

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister
Published May 10

The recently created confusion resulting from the Florida Legislature's passage of Senate Bill 168, the Federal Immigration Enforcement Act, demands that we again clarify for our community where we stand on criminal justice as it relates to immigration status.

A crime is a crime no matter your immigration status. You break the law in Hillsborough County, you steal, you harm an innocent victim, my deputies are trained to arrest you. A victim of a crime is a victim no matter their immigration status. If someone intentionally harms you, steals from you, injures you, we train our deputies to help victims come forward and seek justice.

Enforcement of immigration laws has long been the responsibility of federal law enforcement agencies. It requires specialized training for special agents and deportation officers. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has more than 20,000 employees enforcing nearly 400 federal statutes from 400 offices in the United States and around the world — three in Hillsborough County. The agency has an annual budget of nearly $6 billion.

Senate Bill 168 is a solution for a problem we do not have in Hillsborough County. It has long been our practice in Hillsborough to cooperate with federal law enforcement and that will not change. While legislators were busy espousing views on illegal immigrants and cities that provide refuge for lawbreakers, in Tampa and Hillsborough my team has and always will enforce the laws of Florida. We will put criminals in jail regardless of their immigration status. We will seek cooperation from crime victims regardless of their immigration status. We will cooperate with ICE agents who have probable cause to enforce federal immigration laws.

Our community and those holding lawful immigration statuses deserve these protections. Just as we would not seek, however, to have ICE agents enforce Florida's laws, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is not in the business of doing ICE's investigative and enforcement work for them. Law enforcement agencies have long respected their jurisdictional limits and boundaries. There are no crimes okay to commit in our community simply because the victim is not a U.S. citizen. I am hopeful the Florida Legislature agrees. Moreover, the tools necessary to investigate crimes require that all witnesses and victims feel safe to come forward with information instead of hiding in the shadows hoping a deputy won't notice them.

While other agencies may wish to deputize their team members as ICE agents or ICE warrant officers, we believe this sends the wrong message to our community. We believe that ICE agents have an important job to do — stopping illegal immigration that threatens national security and public safety. We will work with our local criminal justice partners to make sure the information ICE provides to us is transmitted to every stakeholder in our system. We will not, however, turn our office into a branch office for ICE.

Enforcing the criminal laws of Florida is more than just checking immigration status. Section 287(g) programs and the newly created Warrant Service Officer program do not reinforce a partnership with local law enforcement but instead instill fear in crime victims and impede the cooperation necessary to catch criminals.

The good news is our compliance with Senate Bill 168 does not require our agency to do anything other than what we have already been doing. We continue to pledge our cooperation and assistance to those ICE agents who have specialized training and make their living enforcing immigration laws. We equally pledge to support crime victims and important witnesses to crime no matter their immigration status. We cannot confuse the two missions and we must do both equally well.

Chad Chronister is the Hillsborough County sheriff.


  1.  Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal
  2. Medal of Honor recipient Robert Ingram Navy Medical History; Photo by Nick Del Calzo
    About 50 recipients visit the region this week to share their stories and reaffirm their permanent connections.
  3. The bipartisan Lower Health Care Costs Act would impose price controls on doctors. MICHAEL MCCLOSKEY  |  iStockPhoto
    U.S. Senate legislation aims to prevent surprise bills but actually would hurt doctors and patients, a James Madison Institute policy expert writes.
  4. European producers of premium specialty agricultural products like French wine, are facing a U.S. tariff hike, with $7.5 billion duties on a range of European goods approved by the World Trade Organization. DANIEL COLE  |  AP
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
  5. Syria's opposition flag flies on a pole in Tal Abyad, Syria, as seen from the town of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds is expected to be the focus of their discussions. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) LEFTERIS PITARAKIS  |  AP
    From Russia to refugees to shifting alliances, a lot could go wrong, writes a former Naval War College professor.
  6. Pasco County community news TMCCARTY80  |  Tara McCarty
    Pasco County letters to the editor
  7. The Howard Frankland Bridge, which connects St. Petersburg and Tampa, is a leading symbol of regional unity.
    Organizations that rebrand themselves should have a regional mission that reflects the name.
  8. The White House says it has chosen President Donald Trump's golf resort in Miami as the site for next year's Group of Seven summit.  (AP Photo/Alex Sanz, File) ALEX SANZ  |  AP
    Monday’s letters to the editor
  9. Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o has written a children's book called Sulwe, about a girl who "was born the color of midnight."[Photo (2014) by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP] File photo
    Most white people have never heard of skin lightening cream or the “paper bag test,” where your fiance can be no darker than a paper sack. | Leonard Pitts Jr.
  10. Ayana Lage, 26, and Vagner Lage, 27, pose with a sonogram of their unborn child. Ayana writes openly about going through a miscarriage due to the baby having a rare genetic defect. She wonders why more women don't discuss their miscarriages. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.