A recent case involving a couple from Guatemala raised questions of how the Gainesville Police Department handles suspects, victims and even witnesses who might not be in the U.S. legally.
The Gainesville Police Department said on Tuesday it will rewrite its policy of reporting undocumented immigrants to federal immigration officials.
This follows remarks made by GPD spokesperson Ben Tobias to The Gainesville Sun about a domestic violence case on Sunday that involved a couple from Guatemala. They were among about nine Guatemalans living in the apartment.
“In this instance, we have clear evidence to believe that they are illegal,” Tobias told The Sun on Monday. “If they are, we will report them to ICE.”
On Tuesday, Tobias walked back those comments.
“We are not immigration agents, and local law enforcement has no place in being immigration agents,” he told WUFT News.
GPD’s policy, which Chief Tony Jones asked be rewritten, states: “If an officer has contact with a foreign national, a contact that generates paperwork, it shall be clearly noted in the narrative section of the report. The Records Manager, or designee, is responsible for forwarding the proper information or documents to the appropriate agency, as required by federal regulations.”
Under current federal law, police departments are not required to report any undocumented person they come into contact with to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Both Jones and Tobias said GPD’s practice has never been to report anyone to ICE and to this day, the department has never reported a single person.
“We go back and look at our policy and ask if this is clearly written – we found that it was not,” Tobias said. “With the way that Mayor Poe and the city commission have let this city be a welcoming city, we don’t want to have anything that’s contrary to that in our department policy.”
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe echoed those remarks, reiterating that he does not support a policy that authorizes officers to report people to ICE.
“It’s not a local law enforcement matter,” Poe said. “We will continue doing what we’ve always done, which is taking calls, protecting people, holding those accountable committing crime, but not checking immigration status.”