Feds warn officers about immigration law

Published 5:04 pm Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith doesn’t mince words when it comes to the state’s new immigration law.
“It is beyond stupid,” he said.
Smith does not object to the basis of the law — which aims to curb illegal immigration — but said its implementation is a problem for local law enforcement agencies struggling with other problems in their communities.
Smith has sought state legal opinions on the state’s new immigration law as well as federal training for his officers on how to implement it.
The state attorney general’s office said it could not provide any opinions, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it could not provide training.
“I’m not against the law, I’m against the way they’ve implemented it,” Smith said of state officials.
But as state officials watch how local agencies are enforcing the law, the federal government — which is fighting the law and similar measures in other states — is also looking at how officers approach implementation.
The civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department sent state sheriffs and police chiefs a letter reminding them that their federal funding relies on compliance with the Civil Rights Act.
“(We are) closely monitoring the impact of (the immigration law) in a number of areas to ensure compliance with applicable civil rights laws, including to ensure that law enforcement agencies are not implementing the law in a manner that has the purpose or effect of discriminating against the Latino or any other community,” the letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez states. “As a recipient of federal financial assistance, your agency is required to comply with various non-discrimination requirements under federal statutes and regulations. … The federal government may, in some circumstances, terminate federal funds or bring a civil lawsuit in federal court seeking affirmative relief.”
Smith said the dispute between state and federal officials leaves departments like his caught in the middle.
“They are going to sue us if we don’t enforce it, and they are going to sue us if we do,” he said.
The GOP-majority Legislature passed the law last spring, but three groups quickly filed lawsuits against it and federal judges have blocked certain portions of the law.
Republican officials have said they plan to make some changes to the law when they return to their regular session early next year.
Smith said he does not have high hopes for major changes.
“They’ve painted themselves into a corner,” he said. “This is not a good law. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, and I know it’s going to cost the people of my county money to fight the court battles over it.”
Escambia County has not yet seen any arrests made from the new law, Smith said. “But it‘s just a matter of time,” he said.
The sheriff said he believes that illegal immigrants need to be removed from the country, but it should be a civil matter, not a criminal one. And the state’s law leaves a lot to be desired, he said.
“You just can’t even use common sense” to enforce it, he said.

Email newsletter signup