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BOCC Talks Immigration with Other County Officials at Special Meeting


BRADENTON — During a special meeting Tuesday, various community and local government members addressed Manatee County Commissioners about the impact that illegal immigration is having on the community and taxpayers.

Individuals who addressed the board on the topic included Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, local State Attorney Ed Brodsky,  Manatee County School Board Chairman Chad Choate, CEO of Manatee Memorial Hospital Tom McDougal, newly appointed Supervisor of Elections (and former county commissioner) James Satcher and the director of the county’s Department of Public Safety, Jodi Fiske.

Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge requested the single-item special meeting during a March 21 meeting under commissioner comments. At the time, Van Ostenbrdige told his colleagues that he wanted to request presentations and information from various entities to learn about the impacts of illegal immigration on Manatee County.

“The Biden Administration is transporting people,” Van Ostenbridge said during the March meeting, “with the help, I’ve learned, of Catholic Charities.” Van Ostenbridge never stated the source of the information or where he “learned it.”

In the weeks following Van Ostenbridge’s request for the special meeting on illegal immigration, his campaign—and the campaign of Ray Turner, another commissioner seeking reelection—sent electioneering mail pieces that included an emphasis on the southern border and “illegal aliens” and their threat to Manatee County.

Van Ostenbridge’s mailer told voters in part, “(Joe Biden)...has allowed over 10,000,000 illegal aliens, many with criminal histories, to come here, to Manatee County.”

The mail piece continued, “You may be thinking this is a federal issue. Well, it’s not…”

While the mail piece sent to voters by Turner’s campaign was shorter and less in-depth than Van Ostenbridge’s, it included a reference to "reclaiming our Southern Border from lawlessness” along with other campaign points which it said, “All starts here in Manatee County.”

As TBT reported this weekend, Van Ostenbridge and Turner have hired the same political consultant, Anthony Pedicini of SIMWINS.

Deputy County Administrator and Chief of Staff Andrew Butterfield opened Tuesday's agenda with remarks. This was Butterfield’s first formal address before commissioners since being hired by County Administrator Charlie Bishop seven months ago.

Butterfield laid blame on the federal government for what he referred to as a failure in transparency for not gathering or sharing important information about illegal immigration and instead “intentionally burying” the data. Butterfield provided no source for the allegation.

Butterfield told commissioners that the “ongoing incursion” at the country’s southern border is “almost exclusively comprised of military-aged men.”

“More are coming,” said Butterfield, “and our federal taxes are paying for them to be placed all over the country.”

Butterfield summarized the introduction by saying there was not only a human cost due to crime and fentanyl in Manatee County because of illegal immigration but also “significant financial costs to the taxpayer” in classrooms, hospitals, the judicial system, and in personal safety and the safety of area law enforcement. However, some of the presenters who followed Butterfield at the podium appeared to contradict these claims.

Following Butterfield’s opening, former Commissioner and newly appointed Supervisor of Elections James Satcher addressed the board. Satcher’s appointment to SOE was announced four days ago, with Monday of this week being his first weekday on the job.

As it relates to illegal immigration, Satcher told commissioners that as Supervisor of Elections, he will not be accepting ballots from illegal immigrants.

“There is a law that requires my office to check voter rolls every year,” said Satcher. “We will be ensuring that the voters are voting where they live, and definitely not voting in two places, and absolutely not voting if they’re illegal.”

Despite Satcher’s comments, no evidence suggests that any Supervisor of Elections in Manatee County has ever accepted ballots from anyone who was not legally eligible to vote.

Manatee Memorial CEO McDougal was next to the podium, during his presentation McDougal told commissioners that his for-profit hospital is likely losing millions due to “illegal aliens.”

Due to limited data collection, McDougal said he was unable to say how many undocumented patients received treatment at his hospital but said he believed the number of indigent and uninsured patients “was related to the illegal immigration that is occurring in our community.”

McDougal made no mention of the increasing cost of housing or economic inflation, or how these factors could play a role in the number of citizens locally who may be indigent and/or uninsured. He did offer, however, that Governor Ron DeSantis's decision not to expand Medicaid has added to financial strain among healthcare providers across the state.

Last year, the Florida Legislature enacted SB1718, which created a state-level data collection of immigration impacts to healthcare facilities. According to that data, said McDougal, for the last six months of 2023, 6% of the patients treated at his facility admitted to being an undocumented immigrant. Making an estimation that roughly half of the patients questioned about their immigration status might have lied or declined to answer, McDougal said the total impact is likely more like 12% of the patients treated were in the U.S. illegally. 

To review the state-level reporting data cited by McDougal, visit the Florida Illegal Alien Data Dashboard.

Concluding his presentation, McDougal told commissioners that he has been in active negotiations with county administration, hoping to secure financial support from the county government for his for-profit facility.

Speaking on the impact of illegal immigration on area schools, School Board Member Choate told commissioners, “It’s a little bit of a hidden numbers shell game.”

Choate explained that because the federal government does not allow school districts to inquire about the immigration status of students or families entering the school system, he was unable to provide exact numbers of “illegal” students in Manatee County Schools.

The law referenced by Choate comes from a 1982 Supreme Court decision that states cannot deny students a free public education due to immigration status.

Despite not having exact data, Choate surmised the potential impact of illegal immigration to Manatee Schools by pointing to the number of English Langauge Learners (ELL) currently enrolled in the district.

Choate said about 16% of the total student body was ELL students, or “roughly 7-8 thousand kids.” 

Choate then spoke of the added expense, time, staff, and teacher certifications required to educate ELL students in Manatee public schools. He said that even though state funding provides the district “a couple hundred dollars more per ELL student as opposed to normal students,” the district still ends up “in the hole” financially due to educating non-English speaking children.

A personal concern that Choate said he had about illegal immigrant children entering area schools was their health, “What countries have they come from and what are their health screens like and what was their health care like at their prior country…what are we potentially exposing students here to?” 

Even though Choate admitted to not having access to student data, neither student counts nor financial figures, he told commissioners assuredly Tuesday that illegal immigration is “a burden” on the district.

“It’s a burden,” Choate said. “It’s a burden on our teachers, there’s no question.”

Choate added, “At the end of the day, we’re going to do what we have to do to teach every child that comes through our door.” 

Following the presentation about area schools, Sheriff Wells and State Attorney Brodsky addressed commissioners to speak on how illegal immigration impacts local law enforcement and the judicial system.

Wells and Brodsy explained to commissioners that neither the MCSO nor the State Attorney’s Office has any role in enforcing immigration law. While undocumented immigrants who are arrested for a crime are processed like any other criminal, neither the MCSO nor the SAO has the authority to bring a charge or conviction for illegally entering the country, and neither can detain or deport an individual for such a violation.

Both Wells and Brodsky told commissioners that neither of their departments or offices had noted an increase in crimes or criminal cases due to increased illegal immigration.

Concerning the number of undocumented immigrants committing crimes in the community, Brodsky told commissioners, “What I have seen over the years is that the offenders committing crimes in our community are both citizens, those with visas, those with green cards, and those that are illegally here in the country.”

“We are here to prosecute and hold those offenders accountable regardless of their status,” Brodsky said.

For his part, Sheriff Wells explained that when his department arrests someone for a crime and finds that they are in the country illegally, they will alert U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about the suspect's status and the nature of the offense. If ICE does not take the person into custody, then the MCSO has no authority to hold the suspect in jail solely on their undocumented immigration status.

Wells said that a determination whether to retrieve and attempt to deport an undocumented subject is made solely by ICE and that sometimes the decision is based on the nature and severity of the crime the individual was arrested for.

Wells shared that in 2022, of the 82 suspects arrested for crimes that were found to be undocumented in process, ICE took 48 into federal custody. In 2023, his department detained 137 suspects who were of illegal status; 98 of those were released to ICE. So far this year, Wells said his department has arrested 53 suspects who turned out to have an undocumented status; of those, ICE took 47 into federal custody.

“We have not seen a significant impact on the road,” said Wells. “Road deputies are not seeing more contact with criminal illegals. It’s been pretty steady for the last five to six years. The numbers are consistent.”

Brodsky shared a similar experience as Wells, that his office also has not seen any impact on caseloads due to illegal immigration.

According to both Brodsy and Wells, the one issue that law enforcement and prosecutors do see in the community is the victimization of members of the Hispanic or Latino community, particularly those who are undocumented. Because of their immigration status, said the men, victims of crimes who are here illegally are hesitant to seek help or report being victims of crimes because they fear deportation.

The county’s director of public safety, Jodi Fiske, gave the final presentation to commissioners.

Fiske opened her presentation by saying that increased illegal immigration could cause potential impacts on emergency services by driving up demand for emergency care or for emergency services for incidents that are not emergent. Fiske also said that illegal immigrants could bring diverse healthcare needs such as “highly infectious disease” and “injuries sustained during displacement.”

After presenting the hypotheticals of how illegal immigration can impact county emergency services, the remainder of Fiske’s presentation focused on the impact of fentanyl-related crimes or death at the national level.

After hearing from each of the presenters and taking public comments, the meeting was adjourned. 


7 comments on this item

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  • kmskepton

    Could the commissioners have just reached out directly to the offices of Wells and Brodsky to find out that there has been no increase in crimes or criminal cases? And isn't that just precious how Choate had NO ACCESS to student data to support his claims, yet there he was claiming away ... What a charade!

    Wednesday, April 17 Report this

  • Cat L

    10 million? Really? I can tell he's not going for the genius crowd. How many people are in the state of florida?

    According to Google the population of the whole state is 22.24 million.... so like... almost half the population of Florida is in Manatee County alone. Dumb... dumb, dumb, dumb.

    I don't think so, KVO.

    This is the marketing plan. They've been working on it, cultivating it, and it is marketing gold to have people afraid of a subject. You can bet all the players know their roles, especially the PR guys.

    Wednesday, April 17 Report this

  • nellmcphillips

    Thanks to Sheriff Wells and State Attorney Brodsky for their honest presentation of facts without campaigning. This entire meeting smells of campaigning and Party politics full of people spouting their party line without facts. No need for the circus to come to town as Manatee County BOCC are the circus.

    Wednesday, April 17 Report this

  • sandy

    Satcher sounded like he was laying the groundwork for blaming previous supervisors if this election season goes terribly wrong by mentioning having to check voters rolls annually. I'm pretty sure Bob Sweat and Mike Bennett did this. Never heard of any problems with the office under them. Satcher also mentioned that someone resigned and left office on Friday, taking the passwords with him and he would not return them when contacted. I can't believe only one person had passwords to the programs and I'm pretty sure IT could resolve that pretty easy.

    Wednesday, April 17 Report this

  • Rlasunto

    It’s interesting that McDougal conveniently leaves out information that DeSantis refused to accept the federal assistance that would provide more funds to Medicaid that would relieve some of the “$millions”that his hospital is losing. Again due mostly to poor white people having to use the services at the hospital, but that wouldn’t serve the only purpose of this meeting which is to spread nonsense to get people to vote based upon their irrational prejudicial fears than with a rational thoughtful mind.

    Wednesday, April 17 Report this

  • sandy

    Need to add, he also stated that Manatee County does not have newer voter security technology and it is needed to go forward for election security. Not a bad idea but I have never heard of any complaint or issue with the previous SOEs. Again, sounds to me like groundwork in case the election is a disaster. He's covering his butt just in case he screws up.

    Wednesday, April 17 Report this

  • pattybeenutty

    It seems that the speakers should back up their facts since the only one speaking the truth is Sheriff Wells. In fact, the number one state with the most immigrants is California.

    Tell me what unknown diseases are in the schools.

    Tell me how Satcher will clear up any mishandling of elections in this county. I have overseen many elections, and there is no date or proof of his comments.

    What lies?

    This is another political play in action. Catholic Charities, along with other agencies, is helping our brothers and sisters in the world! That is what we are about as Christians.

    Wednesday, April 17 Report this