Rainford calls for commission discussion about taxpayer costs associated with services to ‘non-citizen aliens’

County administrator directed to contact constitutional officers and Sarasota Memorial Hospital leaders about addressing commission on the issue

Commissioner Neil Rainford. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During his report to his fellow board members this week, Sarasota County Commissioner Neil Rainford won consensus for an upcoming public discussion about the cost to county taxpayers of providing services to what he called “non-citizen aliens.”

Rainford broached the topic by saying that his colleagues should have received both a letter and an email from Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman “that talks a little bit about our flexibility, through our Sheriff’s Department, to assist others as we face immigration impacts.”

The March 20 email exchange, which The Sarasota News Leader obtained through a public records request, showed Rainford contacting Hoffman first.

Rainford wrote, “Our Governor has done an amazing job of working to provide safety and security not only at the United States southern border but also at Floridas [sic] southern border. Based on our conversations your leadership in this area has never wavered. Would you be interested and willing to update the [commission] on some of the great work you’ve done on behalf of our Sheriff’s Office to keep us safe here in Sarasota from some of the illegal activities occurring internationally and at our southern border.”

Hoffman responded, “Yes I would be happy to provide that data. I do want you to know that the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) has looped all Sheriff’s in on the intel reports concerning both our southern border and the most recent influx of Haitian’s attempting to enter primarily through Monroe County and the Florida Keys. Earlier this week I spoke with Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay and indicated to him that if he requested assistance from other sheriffs under our statewide mutual aid agreement I would be willing to send Sarasota County Deputy Sheriffs to Monroe County to assist him with the Haitian issue. He was appreciative and indicated he would let me know whether our personnel were needed.”

On March 13, the Governor’s Office issued a statement, noting, “In anticipation of a potential influx of illegal immigrants from Haiti, Governor Ron DeSantis has ordered additional state assets to the Keys and southern waters of the State of Florida.

“For quite some time,” the statement quoted DeSantis, “the State of Florida has been dedicating significant resources to combat illegal vessels coming to Florida from countries such as Haiti.” He added, “Given the circumstances in Haiti, I have directed the Division of Emergency Management, the Florida State Guard, and state law enforcement agencies to deploy over 250 additional officers and soldiers and over a dozen air and sea craft to the southern coast of Florida to protect our state. No state has done more to supplement the (under-resourced) U.S. Coast Guard’s interdiction efforts; we cannot have illegal aliens coming to Florida.”

Hoffman then wrote in the email to Rainford, “We also monitor criminal illegal aliens that are released from state prisons back in to our communities through a report produced by Gov. [Ron] DeSantis’ office. Once we are notified about the release we can work with [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE to aid in the deportation process. In addition after I was elected I deputized an additional 17 corrections deputies as ICE Warrant Service Officers (WSO’s) to serve ICE warrants in our jail when ICE agents are unavailable.

Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman addresses the County Commission during a June 2022 budget workshop. File image

“In addition,” Hoffman continued, “I have been briefed on the State of Texas’ fight to enforce federal immigration law in light of the federal government’s failure to do so. Today the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals put a hold on Texas’ ability to enforce immigration laws. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (Florida) has not yet ruled on this type of issue. I assure you we are very engaged in this issue. I have a trip to the Texas border planned in June at the invitation of the [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration] DEA to see the situation first hand and I’m happy to report to the board my findings. Supporting other sheriffs whether in or out of Florida through our state and national mutual aid agreements may have a financial impact on our agency both in overtime and travel expenses. I would hope if we elected to assist our fellow sheriffs the [County Commission] would be supportive of a budget amendment for those costs if we were not able to absorb them. This is a very important issue. I am available to discuss with you or any other commissioners the particulars of this problem if you would like.”

In a second email, which Maj. Brian Meinberg, commander of the Sheriff’s Office’s Courts and Corrections Division, sent to Col. Brian Woodring of the Sheriff’s Office on March 1, Meinberg pointed out, “I have made the push to maintain as many WSO’s as possible.”

On its website, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says, “The Warrant Service Officer program allows ICE to train, certify and authorize state and local law enforcement officers to serve and execute administrative warrants on noncitizens in their agency’s jail.”

Meinberg then provided the following Sarasota County data that he had received from Amy Westhaver, an ICE program manager:

  • “Number of Warrants served: 89.
  • “2 homicides.
  • “25 assault related offenses.
  • “5 sexual assault related offenses.
  • “7 drug related offenses.
  • “1 kidnapping related offense.
  • “6 weapon related offenses.
  • “11 larceny/burglary/stolen vehicle related offenses.
  • “6 fraud related offenses.”
    Meinberg also forwarded Woodring an email that he had received from Westhaver on Feb. 29.

In that correspondence, Westhaver wrote, with emphasis, “While Sarasota does not have the most WSOs of our [law enforcement agency] LEA partners in Florida, you are the number two overall producer out of your entire state of 38 operational WSO programs. You’re second only to Broward County, which is much larger. Again, the real value of the program is in the partnership and collaboration, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that you guys are absolutely crushing it. This program has no doubt had a substantial impact on helping to enhance your community’s public safety.

“According to our records,” she added, “Sarasota currently has 35 WSOs.”

Details sought from local leaders

Ed Brodsky is the state attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit website

During the April 9 County Commission discussion, Rainford said that if his colleagues “would be so inclined, [he] would just like to put forth to some of our constitutional officers … including the sheriff, [State Attorney Ed Brodsky of the 12th Judicial District, Sarasota Memorial Hospital leaders], and some of our municipalities, what is the true cost of immigration that they are aware of, what county [taxpayer money is] going to immigration …”

Rainford referenced Gov. DeSantis’ signing of a new law, in May 2023  — which went into effect in July 2023 — “requiring that hospitals ask on their admission forms whether a patient is a U.S. citizen and lawfully present in the country,” as the Tampa Bay Times explained it.

“Hospitals are required to submit the information quarterly to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which will then report total admissions, emergency room visits, and the cost of care for unauthorized residents to Florida lawmakers once a year,” the Tampa Bay Times added.

Rainford suggested that, instead of sending them letters, perhaps the board could invite the constitutional officers and others to speak on the issue at an upcoming County Commission meeting.

The key questions, Rainford indicated, would be “How much do you estimate that you spend on services for non-citizen aliens and would you participate in asking people’s citizenship status if county resources are required?”
“Just a thought,” he continued, “considering what we’re going through here in the state of Florida and at our southern border.”

Commissioner Mark Smith asked whether the discussion was one that the board members could have during an upcoming budget workshop.

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. File image

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis replied that if the board members came up with “clearly defined questions, and a date and time specific where [the constitutional officers and representatives of the municipalities and the hospital could address the commission],” that would be a possibility.

Lewis did point out that, during the June budget workshops, when the constitutional officers routinely present their budget requests for the next fiscal year, Sheriff Hoffman will not be present because of a “very important scheduling conflict.”
Instead, Lewis continued, the sheriff is planning to present his Fiscal Year 2025 budget to the commissioners during their regular meeting on June 4.

However, Lewis added, he would want to talk with the sheriff, first, before planning on including the immigration discussion as part of the sheriff’s presentation that day.

Nonetheless, Lewis said, if the commissioners provide him with the questions they would like answered, “I will work with the sheriff and others to coordinate [a discussion].”

Rainford asked his colleagues to have their questions prepared by their next regular meeting, which is scheduled for April 23. Then, those could be sent to the parties he had mentioned earlier.

“That would be very helpful,” Lewis responded.

When Rainford asked whether his colleagues were agreeable to that, no one objected.

1 thought on “Rainford calls for commission discussion about taxpayer costs associated with services to ‘non-citizen aliens’”

  1. It seems to me that if the discussion is about the extra cost as a result of illegal aliens, it should also include the extra benefit to the community provided by the same folks; folks who provide services, pay taxes, and purchase products and services. Similarly if the discussion is about law breakers, it should include comparable rates of non-illegal residents. If we are short staff to protect us from Haitian immigrants, why are we sending troops to Texas? This has the appearance of just political theater.

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