Follow up: Elected officials respond to Orange County Sheriff Demings’ reckless immigration policy

By Tom Tillison

Last week, WFTV reported that Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings will not enter into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to enforce immigration laws in the county.

A Sheriff’s Department official said as much AT the Mexican Consulate in Orlando, saying deputies will not focus on immigration status while enforcing the law, according to the report.

The decision reeks of putting political expediency before the safety of Orange County residents. Does it effectively render our community a sanctuary county? Will Sheriff Demings ignore detainers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for criminal illegal immigrants, effectively allowing these dangerous individuals to walk our streets? We’ve already seen how that worked out in San Francisco.

I sent Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the other six members of the Board of County Commissioners an email late Thursday outlining my concerns and asking each if they support Sheriff Demings’ irresponsible decision, and if not, what actions they plan to pursue to affect that decision.

And to be clear, the issue at hand is not whether the sheriff is willing, or able, to commit manpower to a DHS program. It is the existing policy of not taking into consideration the immigration status of potential suspects encountered on a daily basis.

After three full business days, I have heard from three commissioners, which I will expand on below.

I have yet to receive a response from Mayor Jacob’s office, nor have I heard from Commissioner Pete Clark or the two Democrats on the BCC, Commissioners Emily Bonilla and Victoria Siplin.

Of the three commissioners who had the courtesy to respond, Commissioner Jenner Thompson was the first, responding in the wee hours Friday morning. She would also prove to be most diligent in her efforts to address my concerns. Then again, efficiency of this nature is common with Thompson and while she is termed out in her current seat, Orange County would be well served should she decide to pursue another office.

Two of the three responding commissioners said they were unaware of the WFTV report. None of the three commented on whether they support Demings policy.

Commissioner Bryan Nelson assured me that he “will reach out to the Sheriff’s office to understand their policy as it relates to criminal aliens” and thanked me for bringing the matter to his attention.

Commissioner Betsy VanderLey told me she would not comment on Demings’ policy, saying that is between the sheriff and the voting public. I respect the sentiment, but will comment further on this in my conclusion.

VanderLey did express an understanding of the dangers of picking and choosing which laws to enforce.

“Irrespective of the issue, we live a country governed by law and as law-abiding citizens we should be expected to obey those laws,” she wrote. “If a law is found to be immoral, then we should fight to change it but we cannot ignore laws at our decision or convenience. To do so invites anarchy.”

But it was through Commissioner Thompson’s office that I’m told that my description on Orange County as a sanctuary county “is not really accurate.”

That’s the opinion of county attorney Scott D. Shevenell, but he supports that position by pointing out that municipal law enforcement agencies in Orange County are able to determine their own policies.

Shevenell stressed that Sheriff Demings is an independently elected constitutional officer — courtesy of a court stay circumventing Orange County voters — who sets policies for his agency. The county attorney’s take on the immigration stance, based on the WFTV report, is that if deputies have no probable cause to arrest an offender for an underlying offense, they will release the individual without regard to their immigration status and without any notifications to ICE.

However, he noted that if an offender is arrested their information is entered into a national database that ICE has access to and routinely uses it to issue detainers and request notification from the Orange County Jail.

More importantly, Shevenell reminds us that the jail is run by the county, not the Sheriff’s office, and offers some reassurance that order prevails at the facility.

“The Orange County Jail policy does include notifying ICE before an individual with an ICE detainer is released,” he said.

Still, questions remain as to what takes place on the street when a deputy encounters a criminal alien who has not committed an underlying offense and what impact this may have on the safety of our community. Safety that effects all of us, Democrat or Republican. Elected official or member of the public.

And while I get it that Sheriff Demings is accountable to voters, these same voters look to our elected officials  who took an oath to protect and defend for leadership in times such as this. Realistically speaking, with Democrats holding a substantial lead in registered voters in Orange County and the propensity for Americans to vote party line, the only hope of affecting the sheriff’s reckless policy is if pressure is brought to bear by elected officials.

To date, that leadership is missing. Though currently an army of one, I will continue to beat the drum… and I will continue to elicit responses from our busy elected officials who have an obligation to voters. Even me.

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