“If ICE tells me that I have somebody wanted for murder, we’re going full force to get him. But if you’re telling me, I’ve got to go get somebody who overstayed their visa? I’m not trained or equipped and I don’t have the manpower to do that,” Chitwood said.
As of early April, Volusia had just one detainer request from ICE for 2018. The individual, who was found with a pound of methamphetamines, also had an outstanding criminal warrant and remained in custody because of the latter.
“I have to look at what the facts in Volusia County are, and the facts in Volusia County are $30 to $60 million (of the county’s economy) comes from the farm fields in Pierson,” Chitwood said. “Without immigrant or itinerant labor, those farms cease to exist. I’m not going to go up there and go into the fields and conduct traffic stops and create a problem where I don’t have a problem.”
Trump’s Justice Department, headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has spent the last year pressuring counties and cities that officials argue have sanctuary city policies — everywhere from Albany, New York, to Albuquerque, New Mexico — to enforce federal immigration laws. They have also tried to make a popular federal grant contingent on certain immigration enforcement policies, though the measure has been shot down by courts.
In January, 17 Florida sheriffs signed a deal to be reimbursed by ICE for some of the significant costs that come with detaining immigrants at ICE’s request.
“When somebody’s in our jail and they’ve committed a crime and ICE asked us to hold them so they can turn them over to them,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, one of those who signed the deal, said. “That’s what we should do.”
He said he doesn’t see widespread fear in the immigrant communities in his county, and believes declining to honor ICE detainers is “appalling.”
Following the president’s lead, states across the U.S. have also sought to punish sanctuary cities.
According to the National Council on State Legislatures, 54 bills tackling sanctuary cities and immigration enforcement issues were under consideration in 25 state legislatures this year. Florida considered a bill to ban sanctuary cities and insist municipalities honor ICE detainers, but it stalled in the state Senate. One law has been enacted in Iowa; another was vetoed in Virginia; 41 are still pending as of early April.
When asked about Volusia County’s policy on detainers and efforts to build trust within the community, the county’s Republican Party chairman, Tony Ledbetter, said he wasn’t aware that the county jail hasn’t honored ICE detainer requests since 2014.
“I didn’t know that, but I don’t agree with that. If they’re criminals and they’re here illegally, then everybody should be in favor of getting the situation resolved,” he said. He added that he believes Chitwood is a good sheriff but “if he’s trying to create space between me and the president, I’m siding with the president.”
Chitwood, who publicly opposed Florida’s anti-sanctuary city bill in an op-ed, said he learned the hard way what mistrust looks like in his community.
“We had a homicide here when I was police chief in Daytona,” Chitwood recalled. “We screwed up.”
Called to investigate domestic violence, he said, police were told that the victim was undocumented and officers asked her about her immigration status.
“She shuts down,” Chitwood said, recalling what he saw on the responding officer’s body-cam footage. “We come back eight hours later when her youngest child wakes up, and finds her throat slit by the husband. When you watch that video, you say if the officers had not been so overbearing about her immigration status … she might be alive today.”
Born to undocumented parents, Roy, Daniel and Billy Galarza grew up in Pierson among the ferns, which are sold for their decorative value. The brothers’ father, Pantaleon, who just became a U.S. citizen, crossed the Rio Grande on foot and still works in one of the fields they visited on a recent sunny afternoon.
The brothers have vivid memories of a childhood spent cutting plants for cents on the bundle — later sold to florists — before and after school, on weekends and during vacations.
Roy hated how ice coated the ferns in the winter, soaking his gloves with freezing water. Daniel used to dramatically throw himself down on the ground, tired of cutting the thousands of fronds that would earn them each $40 to $50 a day, depending on how hard they worked. Billy was the baby of the family — just 10 when his mother died — and his brothers and sisters let him slack off.