A select group of correctional officers at a Northwest Florida prison is set to take part in a federal immigration program that will allow officers to interrogate any detainee who they believe is in the country illegally and process them for potential immigration violations.
Florida Corrections Secretary Mark Inch signed the agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in mid-August, though corrections officials only made the formal partnership public on Friday.
The push to participate in the program — known as 287(g) — began a year and a half ago, at the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has long embraced President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies.
DeSantis said Friday he is pleased to see the program moving forward, adding that he directed Inch to seek the program to “facilitate greater cooperation in immigration enforcement with the federal government.”
“We take our responsibility to protect our citizens, foster safe communities and uphold the rule of law very seriously,” DeSantis said.
But, opponents say, the new partnership will fuel more family separations in Florida, where about 20% of the state’s population is foreign-born.
“In a state where 1 in 5 people are immigrants, and where U.S. citizens are often caught in ICE’s sprawling net, we should be taking steps to protect our communities and not furthering our role in the federal deportation agenda leading to the separation of families,” said Gaby Guadalupe, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida.
But the DeSantis administration maintains the goal is to “enhance public safety by identifying criminal aliens received into a correctional facility.”
The state has not explained why Inch picked the Northwest Florida Reception Center in rural Washington County as the launch site of the federal immigration program. But the volume of inmates could be a potential reason.
Reception centers tend to have a higher intake of inmates. It is where offenders first go to get processed into the system, and assigned to the prison where they will serve the remainder of their criminal sentences. Florida has five prison reception centers.
Under the agreement, correctional officers will need to get trained by ICE instructors before they can perform any of the functions of a federal immigration agent.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady said the department wants to train five or six officers to serve in the program, but the numbers have not been finalized.
Under the agreement, ICE is responsible for paying all travel, housing and per-diem costs associated with department personnel’s training for the program. But once the officers are trained, the state will be responsible for all costs associated with immigration enforcement duties, including travel, per-diem and overtime expenses.
Once trained, state correctional officers will have the authority to interrogate any detainee about “their right to be or remain in the United States,” if the officer believes they are in the country illegally, according to the agreement.
Officers will have the power to identify undocumented immigrants and hand them over to ICE, and they will be allowed to interview undocumented immigrants and prepare affidavits and charging documents for their court appearances.
Under the agreement, officers will also be authorized to issue “immigration detainers,” meaning a request at another law enforcement agency to detain a person based on probable cause that the person is a “removal alien” under federal immigration law.
In Florida, local law enforcement agencies have to hold undocumented immigrants in custody for up to 48 hours if a federal immigration detainer requests is sent for one of their detainees. The requirement is part of a 2019 law signed DeSantis that banned so-called sanctuary cities.
Inch, who was appointed by DeSantis, said the new program is a “common sense partnership that will help law enforcement achieve our mutual goals.”
“Federal, state and local officers working together provides a tremendous benefit to public safety,” Inch said.