BY: BRENDA MEDINA AND DOUGLAS HANKS
Two undocumented immigrants picked up in Miami-Dade for driving without valid licenses are suing the county for turning them over to immigration authorities under a 2017 policy switch to avoid a promised crackdown by President Donald Trump on so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions.
The immigrants in the new federal suit — which does not name them — joined immigration groups in a broad denunciation of the policy implemented by Mayor Carlos Gimenez days after Trump took office and ordered federal agencies to withhold funds from state and local governments that don’t cooperate with immigration authorities.
Miami-Dade had been considered a “sanctuary” jurisdiction for immigration offenders under the Obama administration because the county’s policy was to decline detention requests from Washington. The “detainers” keep someone booked on unrelated local charges in jail for an extra 48 hours — plus weekends and holidays — to give immigration officers extra time to take the suspect into federal custody.
The new lawsuit by co-plaintiffs We Count! and the Florida Immigrant Coalition joins a nationwide legal challenge of the federal detainer policy, while seeking to deflate the Gimenez administration’s argument that the extended detentions bolster public safety. The two defendants are described as local business owners who entered the county legal system through traffic infractions and wound up in federal custody on their way to deportation.
The first plaintiff, identified only as “C.F.C.” in court papers, is described as the mother of eight children who is a member of WeCount!, an immigrant advocacy group, and owner of a local produce business. She was arrested on May 12 after being involved in a minor accident in the parking lot of a B.J.’s in Homestead.
The suit said occupants of the other car yelled “Go back to Mexico!” to the woman, who was with her youngest son, age 5, and a pregnant daughter. Homestead police arrived and arrested the woman for driving without a license. The woman’s family posted her bail later that day, but Miami-Dade’s Corrections Department held her for an additional 48 hours until agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked her up on May 14, according to the suit.
We Count! arranged an interview with C.F.C.’s long-term boyfriend, who is also undocumented and asked that he be identified only by his first name, Andrés. Sitting at the family’s home in South Dade, Andrés said family members had no choice but to drive without licenses, since public transportation isn’t an option in that remote stretch of South Florida farmland. Like most states, Florida does not allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
“It’s an obligation, a necessity. You have to take the children to school, you have to go out and buy the food, you have to go to work,” he said. “The bus does not pass by here.”
Fearing deportation himself, Andrés has not visited C.F.C. at the federal facility in Pompano Beach where she’s being held. Their three American-born children, all under 18, are getting rides with family friends to see her.
The other plaintiff is identified as “S.C.C.,” and described as a man who owns a landscaping company that has operated in South Florida for 15 years. The business, which employed a dozen people, shut down after the plaintiff’s June 6 arrest after a traffic stop for driving with a suspended license and driving without a valid license.
The suit says Miami-Dade did not grant the defendant pretrial release because ICE had issued a detainer request for him. He appeared in court on the license charge July 16, and a judge set the bail at $2 — one dollar per charge. Bail was posted July 20, but Miami-Dade did not release the defendant, according to the suit. A lawyer for the plaintiffs on Monday said “S.C.C.” was picked up by immigration officers over the weekend.
In February 2017, Miami-Dade commissioners endorsed Gimenez’s directive to local jails, which reverted the county to its pre-2013 policy of accepting all detainer requests. After the 2017 switch, Miami-Dade was detaining about one person a day under the new policy, and the lawsuit says more than 1,000 people have been held on detainers.
The lawsuit claims the detainers themselves are unconstitutional, since they cause someone to be held in custody after they’re otherwise free to go on the criminal charges that brought them into jail. The plaintiffs want to make the lawsuit a class action, potentially representing all people held by the detainers.
A spokeswoman for Gimenez had no comment on the suit.
Andrés said his partner, C.F.C., joined the lawsuit hoping that it would help her case and other immigrants in similar situations.
“There are many people who are going through the same thing as us or who are now in fear that it could happen to them,” he said. “We hope that something good comes out of this.”
According to a copy of the lawsuit, C.F.C., arrived in the United States with a 15-year-old son, seeking refuge from an abusive relationship. A few years ago C.F.C.’s adult son was murdered after being deported to their home country in Central America, the lawsuit says.
“If she is deported, I don’t even know what we would do, I don’t know what could happen,” Andrés said.