By Sarah Nachin
Governor Ron DeSantis, Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis and Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco held a joint press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 26, 2019. The topic addressed was public safety in relation to crimes committed in our state by illegal immigrants. A number of state, county and local elected officials were in attendance.
Sheriff Nienhuis discussed a program the Hernando County Sheriff’s office has implemented that will make it easier for local authorities to detain and investigate persons arrested for a crime who may be in the country illegally. This 287(g) program allows local deputies to receive training with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and provides these officers authorization to identify, process, and (when appropriate) detain immigration offenders they encounter during their regular law enforcement activity.
When someone has been arrested and the local authorities believe he or she might be in the country illegally, these specially trained deputies can go into the nationwide data base, do the investigation and determine if the person should be held for the federal authorities.
Nienhuis stated, “Hernando County is one of only five counties in the state to become qualified for the program 287(g). We have two detention deputies that can act on behalf of ICE.”
The sheriff introduced Ms. Vickie Lyon. Her twenty-five year-old daughter, Dennielle Schermock, was killed in 2001 by a drunk driver who was in the country illegally. The man was also high on cocaine, driving on the wrong side of the road and hit her daughter’s car head-on, killing Dennielle instantly. The man was hospitalized, but his family came in the middle of the night and got him out of the hospital and he fled. The man has never been found.
“He has not spent one day in jail. He has not paid for the crime he committed,” Ms. Lyon stated.
Kiyan and Robert Michael, another “Angel Family,” also addressed the press conference. The couple’s twenty-one year-old son, Brandon Michael, was killed in a traffic accident in 2007. The man whose car struck Brandon’s was a twice-deported illegal immigrant.
“We totally support this 287(g) program so that the sheriff’s offices can communicate with ICE. In our case, we didn’t find out for two weeks that he was even an illegal immigrant,” Mrs. Michael remarked.
Governor DeSantis stated, “I wanted to come here today to show my support for what Hernando is doing and for what Pasco has done. I am also calling on more local law enforcement agencies to work with the federal government to ensure that accountability and justice are being upheld throughout our state. I applaud Sheriff Nienhuis and Hernando County for taking part in this program.”
DeSantis announced that he is asking the legislature to send him a bill during the 2019 legislative session that addresses sanctuary cities and counties in Florida.
“We should not be allowed to flout federal law. It puts peoples’ families in jeopardy,” DeSantis commented.
He also pledged to look into seeing if there is a program similar to 287(g) that would work at the state level in terms of its corrections system. Currently there are more than 4500 criminal aliens in the Florida prison system.
Sheriff Chris Nocco described how the 287(g) program is working in Pasco County. One sergeant and four deputies received the special training and the program went “live” in June of 2018.
“This is only for post-arrest proceedings. This is not going into the community looking for illegal immigrants,” Nocco stated.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s office has been reaching out to community groups, such as the United Latino Council, to make sure people understand how the program works. He feels it’s important that people within the immigrant communities support this because they, themselves, are often victims of crimes committed by people who are in the country illegally.
“If you are the victim of a crime or a witness to a crime and you are in this country illegally, we can not detain you. We can not arrest you and bring you to ICE. It’s only for those who have committed a crime,” he added.
Governor DeSantis concluded the press conference by stating “We are going to do our part here in Florida to protect folks. That’s why I appreciate sheriffs like these [Nienhuis and Nocco].”