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Immigration Law To Be Discussed At Clearwater Forum

Pinellas County Sheriff Gualtieri pictured standing at a podium surrounded by law enforcement officers.
WUSF Public Media
File photo of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, surrounded by law enforcement officers.

At a forum tonight in Clearwater, community members will gather to discuss immigration, particularly bills that passed this year in the Florida House and Senate. 

The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Centro Cristiano El Shaddai.

The forum is organized by local churches and immigration rights activists. 

Senate Bill 168 passed earlier this month. It prohibits sanctuary policies in Florida, and shifts power to local authorities when it comes to enforcing immigration laws. Gov. Ron DeSantis has not signed the bill yet, but has expressed support for it during the session. 

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has been invited to speak at the forum about how he plans to enforce this legislation in Pinellas County.

Erika Escamilla, one of the event organizers, wants to hear from the sheriff. She says Gualtieri has said he would only enforce the new policies on undocumented immigrants who were criminals. However, Escamilla noted that a clear definition of criminal activity needed to be given.

“We want him to express to us what he defines as criminal so not only the community knows, but also his department, his deputies, police officers also have that definition,” she said.

Escamilla also hopes the sheriff will define what rights undocumented immigrants have when it comes to things like routine traffic stops.

“We want the sheriff to clarify for us what the rights are going to be when somebody may be stopped,” she said. “We want to know what they’re obligated to answer and when they’re allowed to stay silent.”

Sheriff Gualtieri declined an interview request from WUSF Public Media.

By banning sanctuary cities, Senate Bill 168 would require local authorities to report undocumented immigrants.

The new "Warrent Service Officer Program" will also be discussed at the forum. Under Gualtieri's leadership, Pinellas County became one of the first in the country to adopt this program. It allows deputies to serve federal warrents and hold undocumented immigrants for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. 

Carrie Pinkard is the Stephen Noble news intern for the summer 2019 semester. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in English, before heading to USF St Pete to pursue a master’s in journalism.
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