The Gainesville City Commission on Monday passed a resolution to recommend a Gainesville Police Department policy that removes officers from all civil federal immigration enforcement.
This resolution would have the city manager work with staff to create recommendations for a new policy.
What would that mean in practice?
“We will not participate in ICE raids if it involves solely immigration,” Assistant Police Chief Terry Pierce said.
GPD’s current policy on foreign nationals says officers don’t have the authority to enforce federal immigration law violations.
Officers, though, are allowed to help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when assigned to a task force or a joint investigation with them that is primarily a criminal investigation.
Criminal investigations that GPD may assist ICE with include customs violations, human trafficking, money laundering, terrorist activities and narcotic activities.
While GPD has said they will not participate in raids, some find their policy to be unclear.
“It’s not a straightforward reading,” civil rights attorney Reina Sato said. “As advocates, if we don’t have a clear answer, we’re not going to tell the community that GPD is their friend.”
One of the concerns the commission discussed was differentiating ICE civil immigration enforcement and criminal investigations.
The fear is that if a policy states that GPD is not to assist ICE in any way, then it would hinder ICE and federal government investigations into crimes like human trafficking.
There was also a concern for the safety of Gainesville residents.
Commissioners want to ensure that GPD could keep residents safe during an ICE raid or investigation even if the policy states not to support ICE with immigration enforcement.
“I would never want to get in between Gainesville police officers protecting our citizens,” Mayor Lauren Poe said.
The discussion over a policy to ensure that undocumented immigrants wouldn’t be reported to ICE started in April 2018, when GPD arrested a Guatemalan man accused of beating his girlfriend.
A GPD spokesman at the time said the couple and seven other Guatemalans who also lived in the apartment would be reported to ICE.
But after a year and half of talks and meetings, the commissioners were frustrated.
“I want us to get something done,” Commissioner David Arreola said. “I’m tired of talking… My patience has run out.”
A factor in this frustration is the commission’s lack of power.
The Gainesville City Commission does not have authority to direct GPD to adopt specific policies.
They also don’t have control over the Alachua County Jail and undocumented immigrants who could potentially be detained there because it’s run by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, over which the city has zero authority.
“We’re a municipal government in the city of Gainesville, Florida, that does not operate a jail,” Commissioner Harvey Ward said. “I don’t believe we have standing here.”