Pinellas Sheriff defends ICE collaborations during immigration debate

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Family members of Tampa Bay undocumented immigrants spoke out against law enforcement's collaboration with federal immigration authorities. 

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri discussed his agency's newly-announced partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, with members of the Florida Immigration Coalition. 

The panel took questions from audience members Monday night at Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg. 

"This has nothing to do with street-level immigration enforcement, this has nothing to do with how ICE do raids," said Sheriff Gualtieri. 

Just this year, Gualtieri announced 17 Florida Sheriff's are actively cooperating with ICE to house undocumented immigrants, who commit a crime, for up to 48 hours. 

"This is not about people who are here illegally who are just going about their business, this is about people here illegally who are committing crime."

Ana Lamb, a volunteer with the League of United Latin American Citizens, says some immigrants are now fearful to call police for help, even in life-threatening situations. 

"Heartbreaking to receive calls at midnight, at 1, 2, 3 in the morning telling us that something has happened when they need to call 911 and not us. That is a problem."  

Miriam Martinez, an undocumented immigrant, confronted the sheriff Monday about his policies. 

"To go to sleep every night wondering whether I'm going to see my parents the next day, it's stressful," said Martinez. "And growing up like that, it's been hard."

The sheriff said undocumented immigrants who do not commit crime are not targets for deportation. 

"Their immigration status is between them and ICE," said Sheriff Gualtieri. "It's not between the sheriff's office and them."

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