On May 6, Florida Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuñez (R), eleven Sunshine State sheriffs, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officially rolled out the Warrant Service Officer (WSO) program. It gives deputized officers limited powers to act like ICE agents, allowing them to serve federal immigration warrants and hold jailed offenders for ICE pick up.
The WSO derives its authority from the 287(g) program, but is more limited. Instead of being trained and cross-deputized to function as an immigration officer, the WSO permits delegated officers to execute ICE warrants, conduct arrests, and hold criminal aliens for ICE for up to 48 hours. The benefit of the WSO program over 287(g) is that it requires significantly fewer state and local resources.
Instead of requiring four weeks of training and a mandatory annual week-long refresher course like the 287(g) program, WSO designated personnel can be trained in a single day by ICE officers in local field offices. This will mean more localities, particularly rural ones, will be able to participate in the program.
Predictably, the open-borders crowd reacted to the WSO roll-out with outrage. Lorella Praeli, deputy national political director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), called it “just the latest scheme by ICE to enlist local police in its abusive deportation agenda,” while Florida immigration attorney Ramon Carrion said it “causes a lack of faith, lack of trust in the local police authorities[.]”
But as everyone at the WSO launch made clear, the program is about increasing public safety and thereby gaining, not losing, trust from the communities they protect.
Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence again stressed that “[p]olicies 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.”
He added that now “[t]he 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.”
As National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) Executive Director Jonathan Thompson explained at the roll-out, the purpose of the WSO program is to allow sheriffs to honor detainers and decrease their liability. It also gives sheriffs a tool to ensure that criminal aliens are kept out of the community.
The WSO evolved because of limitations with the Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA), which was rolled out in January 2018. Under the BOA, the law enforcement agency acted as a service provider. The agreement makes clear that the law enforcement or correctional agency holding a suspected illegal alien on an immigration detainer past their release date on state charges is doing so under authority of federal law, aiming to protect them from liability while also reimbursing them for the cost.
However, there was concern the BOA didn’t do enough and also didn’t sufficiently shield law enforcement officers from liability. For this reason, the NSA, the Major County Sheriffs of America, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County, Florida, and ICE working together created the WSO program to ensure that law enforcement officers could cooperate to enforce immigration detainers.
Sheriff Gualtieri put it best: “People in our country illegally who commit crimes must not be released back into our communities where they harm others[.]” The WSO program gives state and local law enforcement a powerful and flexible new tool to ensure that.