When the government denies due process and other basic legal rights to anyone, everyone’s rights are at risk. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are rights guaranteed to all people in the United States through the Constitution, yet, we know that these rights and other privileges have been historically and systematically denied to immigrants, women, people of color, and other marginalized communities.
In Florida, where one out of every five people was not born in the U.S., it is critical that every person in our state, regardless of their status, be able to live, work, go to school, raise children, and travel without fear of violence, harrassment and discrimination. That’s why it is time to make sure that our communities take local action to keep immigrants and their families safe.
Below is a list of actions you can take today to make your community a place of equal dignity and opportunity for all.
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Immigrants are an essential part of the history, economy, culture, and fabric of Florida. From Miami-Dade to Orange County, immigrants from many different countries and backgrounds have helped shape and support Florida’s growth over the past few decades. Whether they have started businesses, joined the workforce in our top industries of agriculture, tourism or healthcare, provided labor in our essential services, or helped create the way of life and diversity that attracts international business and investment, Florida would not be what it is today without immigrants.
At the same time, Florida is home to several immigration detention centers that detain immigrants who have not been convicted of any crime and warehouse them in substandard conditions. Florida maintains some of the highest immigration detention levels in the nation. Almost 100,000 immigrants have been detained in Florida over the past 10 years. The Homestead Detention Center alone held over 8,000 immigrant children in captivity before it was shut down in 2019. The suffering, human rights violations, and deaths that have occurred in these facilities are too numerous to list and new reports of such tragic occurrences continue on a regular basis. These tragedies have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where detention centers continue to fail to establish social distancing measures or provide sufficient access to basic hygiene items furthering the spread of the virus in our communities. In Florida, immigrants continue to be detained, transferred, subjected to ICE’s cruelty, and deported.
While responsibility for immigration enforcement and deportation should be strictly within the federal government’s purview, unfortunately Florida state and local governments actually play a large role in supporting the deportation machine. The process that leads to deportation can start right here in our communities when immigrants come into contact with law enforcement for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, immigrants may be detained for traffic violations or “civil immigration violations,” which may simply mean being undocumented, or for no reason at all.
Following contact with law enforcement, if the officer chooses to arrest the individual -- instead of providing a warning or civil citation for nonviolent minor infractions (traffic infractions, loitering, etc.) -- the individual may be subjected to an ICE detainer or "immigration hold." An immigration detainer request is a key tool ICE uses to apprehend individuals who come in contact with local and state law enforcement agencies and put them into the federal deportation system. An ICE detainer is a written request that a local jail or other law enforcement agency detain an individual for an additional 48 hours after they would otherwise have been released. This provides ICE agents extra time to decide whether to take the individual into federal custody for removal purposes.
ICE’s use of detainers to imprison people without a judicial warrant and, in many cases, without any probable cause of any violation has raised serious constitutional concerns. Local law enforcement agencies run the risk of litigation, including damages liability, when they carry out ICE detainer requests. Federal law requires that local governments foot the bill for arresting these individuals on behalf of ICE at taxpayers’ expense.
At the State level, the legislature enacted SB 168 in 2019, an anti-immigrant bill that requires local governments in Florida to carry out federal detainer requests from ICE. It prohibits local governments from obtaining additional documentation, including judicials warrants, to accompany faulty detainer requests. Following SB 168, nearly 50 jurisdictions in Florida created or renewed contracts with ICE to deputize local law enforcement to carry out ICE’s enforcement functions. These actions diminish community trust in law enforcement, instill fear in immigrant communities, lead to family separation, and make our communities less safe due to immigrants’ hesitation to contact law enforcement and report crimes.
- Americans for Immigrant Justice
- Florida Immigrant Coalition
- Dream Defenders
- United We Dream
- Freedom for Immigrants
- Southern Poverty Law Center
- Immigrant Action Alliance
- Miami Workers Center
- The New Florida Majority
- Hispanic Unity
- Mi Familia Vota
Given these realities in Florida and the human rights violations we continue to see in immigration detention facilities, it is more important than ever that local communities take action to affirm immigrants’ rights, while still following applicable federal and State laws. Local governments should feel empowered to enact ordinances that reflect constitutional values when State law falls short. Such ordinances could seek to clarify the processes around immigrant contact with local law enforcement, ensure civil liberties are protected and provide legal support when needed, or decline committing to ICE contracts that lead to immigrant detention within our communities.
Such local laws or policies, like our proposed “Community Protection Act”, can ensure our communities are being served and governed equitably by including the following provisions:
- Prohibiting discrimination based on race, national origin, color, ability to speak English, and other factors that are specific to immigrant communities.
- Protecting crime victims and enhancing community safety through the creation of a clear policy - supported by federal and State law - for immigrants reporting crimes.
- Creating an Immigrant Legal Assistance Fund to assist immigrants in unwarranted detention and deportation cases and ensure that immigrant parents are not separated from their children. As we know, minority communities are disproportionately policed. Black and brown communities need due process and access to legal representation.
- Enhancing transparency and oversight of any immigrant enforcement operations happening in your community and creating avenues for community input on data and decisions being made relating to immigrants.
- Declining to contract or enter into certain agreements with ICE.
The people of Florida have a role to play in supporting our immigrant neighbors, loved ones and friends. The protection of our communities starts at the local level. It is time that the true values of Florida – a place of inclusion, equal rights, human dignity, and respect – are reflected in our actions.
The right to vote is essential to our democracy. A system of fair and equitable elections in which all qualified citizens — regardless of national origin, gender, race or socioeconomic status — may cast a vote and have it accurately counted is the backbone of our democracy.
You have the power to select, endorse, and vote for a candidate that speaks to you and your community’s values. This November, vote for candidates you trust to listen and lead on immigrants’ rights. Ask every candidate on the ballot about their record, platform, and plans to protect immigrants before you cast your vote.
Get ready to vote in the General Election on Tuesday, November 3 by visiting our 2020 Voter Information Center.
- Be an ACLU Justice Voter and vote for Sheriff, State Attorney and Supervisor of Elections candidates that will Advance Civil Liberties and Immigrants’ Rights.
- Register to Vote and Update Your Voter Registration
- Naturalize and Register to Vote
- Know Your Rights as an Immigrant in Florida
- Reports and Publications
- “Unaccompanied” by Javier Zamora
- “The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America” by Nikesh Shukla
- Movies and Documentaries
- “Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America”
- “Food Chains”
- “Immigration Nation”
- “The Other Side of Immigration”
- “The Undocumented Lawyer”
- “Who is Dayani Crystal?”
- “Which Way Home?”