Florida city wants immigration rule changed to guard victims
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Police and the mayor of a Florida city are looking to change a local immigration policy after realizing that a domestic abuse call could have led the victim to face deportation.
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said the north Florida city’s policy adopted to comply with federal immigration authorities goes too far, and wants to amend it Thursday at a city commission meeting.
The policy currently requires police officers to write down the names of foreign nationals they come into contact with and turn that information over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Poe said that if those reports include victims’ names, it could have a chilling effect on crime reporting.
“This is not who we are,” Poe said in a Facebook post earlier this week. “This type of approach is contrary to our community policing model and has a significant chilling effect on our victims’ ability and willingness to report crimes, including domestic violence and battery.”
The domestic abuse case involved a Guatemalan man accused of hitting his partner, an 18-year-old Guatemalan woman. If police were to forward the arrest report, it would include notations that the victim and other witnesses in the house were suspected to be in the country illegally.
Gainesville police spokesman Ben Tobias said the department has not reported the suspect, victim or witnesses to ICE, despite earlier telling reporters that it would forward information to the agency. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the suspect won’t be reported to ICE. Tobias said it would be left to officials in Alachua County.
While ICE is notified when foreign-born suspects are booked into a county jail in Gainesville, Alachua County was labeled “non-cooperative” last year for not holding immigrants longer to give time for the federal agency to take custody.
Mayors across the nation have challenged orders to detain immigrants for longer periods so they get picked up by immigration officials. But in Florida, 17 law enforcement agencies have agreed to deepen ties with ICE.
The city of West Palm Beach sent a memorandum last week to its employees stating they may share information regarding citizenship and immigration status with ICE as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over its information-sharing policies. And Miami-Dade reversed its “sanctuary city” policy last year, saying the county would honor requests to hold people for extra time so they can be arrested by immigration authorities.
Tobias said there are no rules in place that force police departments to report all contacts with any foreign nationals, but said the general policy had been adopted in case federal regulations required such cooperation in the future.
“Officers of the Gainesville Police Department are not immigration agents,” he said. “They will not be proactively checking immigration status on foreign nationals they contact during routine investigations or patrol.”