Orange County Sheriff not looking to enforce immigration law
posted by Victor Manuel Ramos on Sep 23, 2009 5:47:06 PM
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The Orange County Sheriff's Office is not interested in pursuing illegal immigrants because of their status, Sheriff Jerry Demings told a crowd of 300 people -- most of them immigrants -- gathered Monday night for an "immigration dialogue."

They were part of an event organized by the Federation of Congregations United to Serve, a coalition of church groups in Orlando, at the St. John Vianney Catholic Church in the Oak Ridge neighborhood of southwest Orange.

"We are not in the business of enforcing federal immigration law," Demings told the crowd. "Our priority is on arresting violators of the law and keeping all of you safe."

Demings' statement marks a different approach from neighboring Lake County, where Sheriff Gary S. Borders has sought to cooperate with immigration and border patrol officials, leading to complaints of ethnic profiling from the Hispanic population of the county.

At the national level, another local sheriff, Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, has built a reputation on being tough on illegal immigration, causing immigrant advocacy groups to decry what they see as civil rights violations.

At the Orange County forum, commmunity members told Demings they had three top concerns: 1) Fear that deputies would target them for traffic stops because they look Hispanic; 2) Worry that if undocumented immigrants call the police for help they could be arrested; 3)Concern that the county would pursue a 287-g agreement with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement to enforce immigration law.

Demings said that his department would detain and arrest immigrants "who mean harm," but stressed that he is not looking for his deputies to take on the duties of federal agents on top of their local crime fighting efforts. He asked local immigrants to cooperate, regardless of status, when they are witnesses to crimes or have tips for ongoing investigations.

"What I am simply saying is this: We live in the greatest nation in the world, a nation built on immigrants," Demings said. "We encourage you to report and trust that we will treat you the way that you want to be treated... We want to be your friend."

Bishop Thomas Wenski, of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, said that the ultimate goal for immigrant communities should remain a push for reform that would render those concerns moot.

"Until we have immigration reform," Wenski said, "there will be people falling through the cracks."

Robin Arias, a 51-year-old undocumented immigrant from Peru who has two children, asked for better treatment for immigrants and their families.

"Our children want to suceed and they want to move ahead in life," said Arias, his voice breaking up. "We are humans like all of you." ... n-law.html