U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched a program for federal-local collaboration that would sidestep sanctuary restrictions by delegating arrest powers to local officers.
Under the Warrant Service Officer (WSO) program, announced Monday in Pinellas County on Florida's Gulf Coast, local law enforcement officers would be allowed to conduct immigration arrests. The new rule would allow local authorities to detain criminal suspects instead of releasing them, giving ICE an extra 48 hours to take them into federal custody.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a civil rights group, said the initiative is "just the latest scheme by ICE to enlist local police in its abusive deportation agenda."
Lorella Praeli, ACLU deputy political director, said, "The agency explicitly aims to subvert the will of local communities that have passed ordinances to prevent exactly this kind of cooperation between police and ICE."
According to an ICE statement, "Only one jurisdiction in Florida has agreed to join the program, but others have shown interest and others are expected [to sign up] soon."
ICE said the new program is a measure to fight "sanctuary cities" across the country. The term sanctuary city is generally applied to cities where local authorities refuse to heed ICE’s detention requests and in some cases refuse to communicate detainee information to ICE entirely.
According to a Memorandum of Agreement signed by the agency and Pinellas County on Monday, sheriff's office personnel "will be nominated, trained and approved by ICE to perform certain limited functions of an immigration officer" within the local jail or correctional facilities. Those selected to participate are expected to receive federal credentials that reflect their authority once training is completed.
Local jurisdictions are expected to fund the cost of travel and officer pay associated with training, the agency said.
Praeli said it would "potentially [cost] the state millions in operational expenses and legal fees."
ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke said in an email that WSO officers would "only arrest unlawfully present aliens that are processed into their jail or correctional facility once they are formally released. Arrests will only occur inside the confines of the jail."
"Under the WSO program, administrative warrants are served and executed on behalf of ICE. The aliens are not formally held for any additional time in jail stemming from their sentence or criminal arrest. They can be held up to 48 hours stemming from their immigration arrests," Bourke said.
Amien Kacou, immigration staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida, told VOA this initiative has serious legal flaws.
"For one thing, it is unclear how the power of arrest can be effectively delegated if it does not include the power to ensure probable cause of arrest," he said.
ICE's press release states that WSO officers "will not question individuals about their citizenship, alienage or removability, nor will they process aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States."
"This means ICE wants local law enforcement to arrest people when they're told — no questions asked. But this is not how the power of arrest works under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence," Kacou added.
ICE is still expected to issue immigration detainers with partner jurisdictions, but if immigration officers do not take the person into custody within 48 hours, the individual must be released, according to the agency.