A new lawsuit in Florida is testing the Trump administration policies meant to exert pressure on cities and counties that refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers. In essence, the detainers will ask local authorities to hold people in jail on behalf of ICE, who then arrests them. Sanctuary cities that do not comply have been threatened with the withholding of federal funding since the president issued an executive order during his first week in office.
Miami-Dade County chose to comply with the executive order. Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez did not want to forfeit federal funding and directed the City Corrections Department to honor any detainment requests from ICE. The plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Mayor and Miami-Dade County was being held in a domestic dispute that was later dropped. Although he posted bail, he was held overnight in custody because of suspicions that he was an undocumented. In fact, he is a U.S. citizen who was born in Honduras and obtained his citizenship through his father, who is also a U.S. citizen. He was let go after the government realized they had made a mistake.
The lawsuit filed against the county makes the case that the county violated the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful seizure. Many sanctuary cities and immigration lawyers have argued that detainers violate the Fourth Amendment because the burden of proof is negligible compared to other documents like an arrest warrant, which must be signed by a judge.
The Obama administration made similar detainer requests which spurred complaints against municipalities. Cities and counties like Miami-Dade find themselves possibly losing out on funding if they do not comply with detainers, and being sued by citizens when they do. According to Cecilia Wang, Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, there are now more than 350 police departments that have instituted policies requiring the careful review of detainer requests before deciding to comply with them. Some have a policy to disregard the requests entirely.
In April, a federal judge temporarily blocked the president’s ability to deny federal funds to sanctuary cities. The House of Representatives then countered by passing a bill that would make it easier for Trump and localities that honor detainer requests to survive legal challenges. Although the bill passed in the House easily, it must also pass through the Senate.
Advocates for immigrants say a higher standard of evidence must be required to hold someone in custody. The plaintiff in the Miami-Dade case has been a victim of an immigration enforcement mistake once before in 2015 when a deportation case against him was started and then closed when authorities realized he was a citizen. He is now seeking financial damages from the county.
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