10:47 PM, Oct. 21, 2012
Written by
Michael Braun

Opponents of a federal immigration enforcement program rallied Sunday in Immokalee and handed a petition with 1,700 signatures urging the program be scuttled here to Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk.

About 100 people were at the Immokalee Substation of the sheriff’s office Sunday to hand the signed petition to a representative of Rambosk and to show support against the program.

The Collier sheriff has been a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security program since 2007, one of three sheriffs’ offices in the state and 62 across the U.S. to do so.

The federal deputizing program, known as 287(g), allows the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to act as immigration officers, checking the immigration status of suspects and placing holds on them for possible deportation.

Grey Torrico, coordinator of the Collier County Neighborhood Stories Project, helped organize the rally and said the petitions represented the needs of area Hispanics who say the program is being used by the Collier sheriff’s office to target Hispanics, specifically immigrants here illegally.

“It is creating a huge mistrust in our community,” the Collier native said, adding that community residents would rather not come forward with tips and be helpful with police if they could possibly face deportation or have their family split up.

Figures from earlier this year showed that, since August 2007, the Collier sheriff detained 3,400 people charged with crimes who were also suspected of being in the United States illegally. Of those 2,794 have been deported, 71 detention cases were terminated and 635 are still being processed.

The program was set to expire Oct. 15, but a few days before it was given new life in all 62 counties until Dec. 31. A review of the program by the Obama administration is under way.

Torrico said that those who have been caught under the 287(g) program are low-priority immigrants and many are detained during a traffic stop.

“We feel the collaboration between the sheriff and ICE needs to stop,” she said.

A letter given to Rambosk earlier this month urged the program by terminated here. It was signed by 33 Collier County community leaders, including Lucas Benitez, co-director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers; the Rev. Dr. Ron Patterson, pastor of Naples United Church of Christ in Naples; Jordan Buckley, co-coordinator of Interfaith Action of SW Florida; and Mickey Gargan, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Collier County.

Grey said the sheriff responded shortly thereafter by saying he had every intention of staying with the program.

Those who took part Sunday walked from Azteca Supercentro market a few blocks to the substation on First Street.

Angela Cisneros, also a member of the Collier Neighborhood Stories Project, gave the signed petition to Lt. Rene Gonzales of the sheriff’s community service bureau who, in turn, promised to give the petitions to the sheriff.

Krista Williamson, spokeswoman for the Collier sheriff, released a statement by Rambosk.

“We respect and support everyone’s right to peacefully protest the federal, state and local laws they don’t agree with. As sheriff I have the duty to enforce all laws fairly and I know our community expects that I will take appropriate and legal actions to keep our residents safe from criminals.”

Cisneros, a Collier County native and the daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, said 287(g) program was “un-American.”

“I’ve been pulled over. It is a problem because I don’t think you can tell someone is undocumented just by looking at them,” she said. “This is not good for the community.”

She said people of Hispanic heritage are being pulled over for minor traffic infractions and then get deported.

Dr. Juan Puerto of Fort Myers, who has had Immokalee Family Doctors Clinic for 30 years, participated in the rally Sunday and said he has seen more children being affected by the policy.

“I started noting children coming to me who were depressed, disrupted and their families were in jail and about to be deported,” he said. “When they went to school and saw the school resource officer, it made things worse.”

Puerto, who signed the petition and the earlier letter, said the program fosters mistrust of the police.

“People are not going to report crimes and they don’t want to get into trouble,” he said.

Puerto said the undocumented immigrant issue is one that needs to be fixed, not by deportations but by the government.

“You don’t break up a family, you fix it a different way. This is a failure of immigration policy,” he said.

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