This was originally published by South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Last week, Florida received the shocking news that federal immigration agents may have asked Miami-Dade County to jail at least dozens — if not hundreds — of U.S. citizens for deportation in the last two years, using detention requests known as “detainers.”
That is a stunning fact. U.S. citizens cannot be deported or held by immigration authorities. And yet we know that federal agents working for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, or ICE, have been indiscriminately targeting them on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature is considering a bill, SB 168, that would force Miami-Dade and other counties across the state to accept every single detainer request they receive from ICE. That was a bad idea to begin with, but Miami’s bombshell makes clear that SB 168 cannot pass. ICE’s detainer system is too much of a mess to inflict on Floridians.
At the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, we represent one of the U.S. citizens who has been ensnared in this system: Garland Creedle, a construction worker who sued Miami-Dade last year for holding him on an ICE detainer. Another U.S. citizen, Peter Sean Brown, a waiter who lives in the Keys, recently sued Monroe County for the same reason. Despite their citizenship and deep roots in Florida, these citizens were subjected to the terror of imminent banishment from their homes, jobs, and families, all because Florida officials chose to participate in ICE’s broken detainer system.
As it turns out, the harms inflicted on Creedle and Brown are likely just the tip of the iceberg. Miami-Dade’s own data shows that between February 2017 and February 2019, ICE sent the county a staggering 420 detainer requests for people listed in jail records as U.S. citizens. Four hundred and twenty, in just a two-year span, in just one of Florida’s 67 counties. That means ICE is asking Miami-Dade to jail an average of 17 people identified by the county as citizens every month, or 4 people each week. The total number across Florida is surely much higher.
In 83 cases, ICE eventually lifted its detainer request.
It is evident that every month, ICE is filing requests to law enforcement agencies to hold multiple U.S. citizens for deportation. Every month, ICE is asking our police and sheriffs to blatantly violate our rights, and in the process expose our cities and counties to massive financial liability. No one is safe from ICE’s mistakes—not waiters or construction workers, not the veterans and mothers who were caught in ICE’s sprawling dragnet in other states. Imagine your local police telling you that, despite your pleas, you will be held in jail, turned over to ICE, and put on the next plane. Miami-Dade’s records suggest that ICE is asking our police and sheriffs to do that on a regular basis.
Why would we force our police to help round up Floridians like this? SB 168 would mandate that all Florida officers “comply with the requests made in [an] immigration detainer.” Even if the person is a U.S. citizen, even if they have no prior convictions, even if they have deep roots in our community, no matter what, the bill would require detention and transfer to ICE.
Given the shocking numbers revealed in Miami-Dade, we can expect that SB 168 would lead to countless U.S. citizens being held for ICE around our state. Lawsuits will proliferate. Many citizens and immigrants alike will live in fear of their own police. It would be unconscionable to force these consequences on Floridians.
There aren’t any good reasons to do it, either. SB 168’s supporters have claimed the bill would only make police detain immigrants with serious criminal convictions. But the facts squarely contradict that claim. In addition to U.S. citizens, the detainers sent to Miami-Dade in the last two years primarily targeted immigrants with little to no criminal record. Study after study after study, using ICE’s own data, proves that detainers generally do not focus on people with serious convictions—or any convictions at all. It is wrong to claim otherwise.
Now that we are seeing the depths of ICE’s errors, we urge the Florida Legislature not to take up SB 168. Our state owes us better than forcing such a broken system on us.
Co-authored by Spencer Amdur, Staff Attorney, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project