Controversial ICE program allows Pasco deputies to check immigration status

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It’s a controversial program that gives law enforcement agencies the power to check the immigration status of people taken into custody. Pasco County is the latest sheriff’s office to sign up.

Anyone booked at the Pasco County Jail will soon be questioned about their legal status here in the U.S.  The Sheriff’s Office is the fourth agency in the state, and one of 60 across the country participating in the 287(g) program.

“Unfortunately, the Federal Government for decades has not done anything to clarify these issues, so this is where local law enforcement gets caught in the middle,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco.

In the controversial partnership, trained deputies will screen people who have been arrested when they get to the jail.  And they'll have the authority to hold and turn-in anyone here illegally over to federal immigration authorities.

“The only time that we’re involved is after we have made an arrest on another charge, rape, murder, domestic battery, you know,” Nocco said.  “We are not going out into the community, and we are not looking for people who are here illegally proactively.”

Nocco says 287(g) will help with the legal issues around detaining ice suspects, and also make the county safer.

“The vast majority of people that we run into are hardened criminals that committed bad crimes, and I don’t think anybody, no matter what your status is, do we want them back in our community.”

However, advocates for immigrants disagree.

"It's not good for the immigration community," said Daniela Hogue, an Immigration Lawyer at Manny, Gordon, Zeller.

She says the expanded role leads to racial profiling, discourages immigrants from working with law enforcement, and flags people who commit minor crimes for deportation.

"People are very fearful of this, it creates a lot of adverse consequences for immigrants who normally may be willing to cooperate with police, local law enforcement,” said Hogue.  “If they feel like they are going to be targeted for deportation then they’re more likely to run and not cooperate, and it makes the community really less safe by doing that."

Nocco signed the agreement with ICE for the 287(g) program back in August.  Deputies at the jail are expected to be trained in the next few months.