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Florida ACLU alleges Immigration violations by ACLU, other groups

Miami Times staff report | 7/31/2014, 9 a.m.

A coalition of civil rights, immigrants’ rights, religious and legal groups has sent letters to officials in 62 Florida counties calling for an end to local law enforcement agencies detaining people for alleged civil immigration violations at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The groups argue that “ICE detainers” or “ICE holds” are not legally binding and that the detentions threaten community safety and raise serious constitutional problems that could open enforcing agencies up to significant legal liability.

“ICE detainers violate the basic principle that the government cannot put someone in jail without due process,” stated ACLU of Florida staff attorney Shalini Goel Agarwal. “Multiple federal courts have ruled that detentions based on ICE detainers violate people’s constitutional rights, and many cities and counties are rightly opting out of them to avoid liability. We’re asking every county in the state to make the smart decision to discontinue their entanglement with ICE.”

An ICE detainer is a request from ICE that a local jail or other law enforcement agency detain an individual for an additional 48 hours after his or her release date, in order to provide ICE agents time to decide whether to take the individual into federal custody and begin formal deportation proceedings. In counties where law enforcement agencies honor ICE holds, individuals are being held even when they have been cleared of all criminal charges against them.

Civil rights activists argue that detainers have resulted in the illegal imprisonment of countless individuals—including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Latinos in particular—without any charges pending, sometimes for days or weeks after they should have been released from custody.

The letter calls on county sheriffs to join the two states and more than 150 localities that have chosen to limit or end the practice of keeping individuals in jails on ICE detainers based on constitutional and other concerns.

In December 2013, the Miami-Dade County Commission passed a resolution to implement a policy ending enforcement of ICE detainers. In recent weeks, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office announced that it will not enforce ICE detainers unless there is a finding of probable cause made by a U.S. district court or magistrate judge.  The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office adopted a similar policy, although it is unclear whether the County will continue to honor ICE detainers based on orders from immigration judges, who are administrative judges in the executive branch (the same branch of government charged with prosecuting deportations), or only from federal judges in the judicial branch.

“The writing is on the wall,” said Rebecca Sharpless, Director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law. “Detaining people for federal immigration authorities not only undermines community trust but it is expensive and unlawful. We can expect the developments in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties to trigger a domino effect across the state.”

“We celebrate the fact that local law enforcement, especially Broward Sheriff’s Office, are fully acknowledging their mission to protect the rights of all Floridians, and declining to participate in a potentially dangerous federal government program that has proven to be costly for taxpayers and ineffective for crime prevention,” stated Maria Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Detaining and deporting hardworking Floridians and separating families does not benefit anyone and does not protect our communities. Unfortunately, other officials around the state, such as the Collier County Sheriff and Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Atwater, are not getting the memo and since last week are turning over dozens of fruit workers to ICE.”