Bob Gualtieri is growing frustrated with the federal government’s slow progress on illegal immigration.
After the Pinellas County Sheriff spent months working with members of the Trump administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security on a plan that would allow sheriff departments to detain undocumented immigrants legally for deportation, Gualtieri says no program has yet been implemented.
On his fifth day in office, President Donald Trump released an executive order to support immigration enforcement and punish local governments that don’t comply with federal authorities. In April, that order was frozen by a federal judge.
Federal officials must rely on local police to help enforce federal immigration laws, but the law doesn’t require local authorities to detain illegal immigrants just because their federal counterparts make a request.
In fact, federal courts across the country have found compliance with such requests is voluntary. That results in many sheriff departments declining to work with the Trump administration, which is focusing on removing undocumented immigrants with a criminal background.
Congress would be the best entity to change the law, Gualtieri says, but that’s not likely with the current dysfunction in D.C., especially in dealing with immigration. So after meeting with the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security in March, the Sheriff began working on behalf of the National Sheriffs Association and the Major County Sheriffs of America to try to come up with a consensus-based remedy. In the interim, Trump officials accused individual local law enforcement agencies of being “sanctuary” cities or counties.
Gualtieri says that isn’t the case.
In a presentation to the National Sheriffs’ Association during its annual convention in June, Gualtieri offered a proposal that would have local sheriff heads sign a contract for ICE to pay a daily fee to sheriff’s departments for holding an immigrant until federal immigration agents can take the person into custody.
Gualtieri said: “We can hold them up to 48 hours under this housing agreement that gives them the time and opportunity to pick up this criminal illegal, so then they can do their job and begin those removal and deportation proceedings, so that we don’t have a Kate Steinle situation, we don’t have someone who’s a criminal illegal that’s going to adversely affect public safety and we don’t put bad guys out on the streets.” (Steinle was the 32-year-old woman shot and killed in 2015 by a Mexican national while walking in San Francisco’s Pier 14. The man had been deported from the U.S. five times and had seven felony convictions).
“So it’s really a win for everybody because it allows us to help them, allows them to do their job and at the same time allows sheriffs to do it within the law,” he added.
But since then it’s been “extremely slow going” regarding where the feds are at, and the Pinellas Sheriff didn’t appreciate criticism from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others in the Trump administration saying sheriffs aren’t honoring ICE warrants, as they simultaneously collaborate with other parts of the government.
“The sheriffs are not at fault with this,” he insists. “The sheriffs are trying to do the right thing, and none of us want a situation where we take a criminal illegal, and put that person on the street, but at the same time, we’ve got to follow the law, the frustration is that it is not moving quickly enough when we have identified the solution and that we have different parts of the administration that are pointing fingers at us when we’re working collaboratively with another part and come to at least a tentative agreement on how to implement a fix to it.”
An ICE spokesperson told The Daily Beast over the weekend that the agency was exploring a variety of options, but no final decisions have yet been made.
“The agency maintains that detainers are legally authorized requests, upon which a law enforcement agency may rely, to continue to maintain custody of an alien for up to 48 hours so that ICE may safely assume custody for removal purposes,” spokesperson Liz Johnson said.
While Gualtieri remains optimistic, he says the process is simply moving too slowly.
“We want a solution to this ASAP, we need a solution to this, there is a viable solution, and we’ve just gotta get it done and get beyond this and stop having fingers pointed at us when we are not doing anything wrong.”
Gualtieri says a new law will also clarify who is a “sanctuary” city or county, “because we’re getting lumped into one pot, saying ‘you’re sanctuary.’ We’re saying, no, we’re not sanctuary, we are the antithesis of sanctuary, we support this because we don’t want criminal illegals in the street.”
Last month, Sessions announced that going forward the Department of Justice will only provide Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants to those cities that have certified compliance with a federal statute requiring localities to share with the federal government immigration information about individuals and allow federal immigration access to local detention facilities.
They will also provide the Department of Homeland Security at least 48 hours notice before local officials release an undocumented immigrant wanted by federal authorities.