U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced last week the launch of a constitutionally shaky collaborative program intended to expand local law enforcement's role in enforcing immigration policy.
The new Warrant Service Officer program will train and certify deputies to make arrests on behalf of ICE in jails and keep undocumented immigrant inmates in custody for up to 48 hours following their time served on local charges.
During that two-day grace period, ICE will be able to decide whether to serve the detainees federal immigration warrants. "Policies that limit cooperation with ICE undermine public safety, prevent the agency from executing its federally mandated mission and increase the risks for officers forced to make at-large arrests in unsecure locations," said ICE acting director Matthew Albence in a statement posted on the Department of Homeland Security website. "The WSO program will protect communities from criminal aliens who threaten vulnerable populations with violence, drugs and gang activity by allowing partner jurisdictions the flexibility to make immigration arrests in their jail or correctional facility."
One work day – as in eight hours of training – will be enough to qualify participating sheriff's deputies within local jails the authority to process immigration warrants on behalf of federal authorities, the release says.
The American Civil Liberties Union called the WSO program the "latest scheme by ICE to enlist local police in its abusive deportation agenda."
"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," said Lorella Praeli, ACLU deputy political director, in a statement. "Participants would be forced to carry the financial burden of ICE’s aggression, potentially costing the state millions in operational expenses and legal fees." Praeli argues ICE is asking local law enforcement to "risk violating the Fourth Amendment."
It's unconstitutional to detain people for deportation proceedings without a warrant. "ICE and the other agencies complicit in Trump's deportation force may feel they are above the constitution – but neither they, nor local police, are exempt from search and seizure laws," Praeli said. "We urge local law enforcement to resist this dangerous proposal and stand by their commitment to the communities they serve."
The WSO program is the first of its kind on the national level. ICE already has 287(g) agreements with several counties in Florida, which deputize local police to work as federal immigration officials. They can arrest undocumented immigrants and serve civil warrants after weeks of training.
ICE's new initiative is mostly intended for agencies that can't afford to participate in a 287(g) agreement. The WSO program was launched in Florida. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was one of the first to sign onto the 287(g) agreement. "People in our country illegally who commit crimes must not be released back into our communities where they harm others," Gualtieri said in a statement. "The Warrant Service Officer program allows sheriffs to lawfully help ICE keep criminal illegal aliens in jail and off the street by serving ICE arrest warrants. The WSO program helps enforce the rule of law and keeps our communities safe."
The WSO program's announcement comes on the heels of the state Legislature's approval earlier this month of a bill that preemptively bans so-called "sanctuary" policies statewide, enabling the penalization of jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.