ACLU Sues to Stop Miami-Dade County's Immigration Policy

by | July 6, 2017 AT 12:15 PM

By Douglas Hanks

An 18-year-old U.S. citizen spent an extra night in a Miami-Dade jail based on a flawed and illegal request from immigration authorities, according to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the county's new policy to hold inmates sought for deportation.

Garland Creedle was arrested on an alleged domestic violence incident in Miami on March 12 and spent the night in a county jail. The teenager posted bond and would have been released on March 13 if not for a detention request sent by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, according to the federal suit filed Wednesday in Miami.

The "detainer" request declared Creedle a "removable alien" and asked that he be jailed for an additional 48 hours. Miami-Dade complied under a policy enacted in January after President Donald Trump threatened a funding crackdown for local governments that refuse to hold alleged immigration offenders.

Creedle's suit says immigration authorities had already concluded he was a U.S. citizen in a 2015 court hearing shortly after he arrived in the United States. Creedle was born in Honduras to a father with U.S. citizenship, which the suit said made Creedle a citizen since birth.

Miami-Dade "unlawfully detained Mr. Creedle against his will and without legal authority," reads the suit, prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union and a lawyer with the University of Miami Law School's Immigration Clinic. He was released March 14, after immigration officials "interviewed Mr. Creedle in jail and withdrew the detainer request."

The lawsuit against Miami-Dade and Mayor Carlos Gimenez is the latest assault against Gimenez's Jan. 26 directive to reverse county policy and begin honoring all detention requests from Immigration authorities. The county had rejected almost all of the requests since 2014, after the county commission enacted a new policy limiting the extended detentions to people facing serious charges and demanding that Washington reimburse Miami-Dade for the extra jail expenses.

Gimenez reversed that policy after Trump promised a crackdown on local governments offering "sanctuary" to immigration violators, and the county commission endorsed the mayor's directive in February. Gimenez, who has authority over county jails, declined to comment.

The latest county figures show that Miami-Dade has received 376 detention requests since the Gimenez policy took effect and turned over 143 former inmates to immigration authorities.

Creedle's suit asserts that Miami-Dade is wrong to honor any of the detention requests because they aren't attached to arrest warrants and exist outside the normal judicial process governing other charges.

"It's actually irrelevant that Mr. Creedle is a U.S. citizen," said Rebecca Sharpless, Creedle's lawyer and director of UM's Immigration Clinic. "It just illustrates the flaws with the system."

Miami-Dade is currently fighting another legal challenge of the detention requests after a local judge agreed with a Haitian immigrant's lawsuit against the county policy. Other jurisdictions, including Broward and Palm Beach counties, continue to decline Immigration's detainers, citing the lack of criminal charges attached to the requests.

A detention request only kicks in once someone held on local charges would otherwise be free to go. By honoring the requests, Miami-Dade agrees to hold someone for an additional 48 hours, plus holidays and weekends, in order to give federal immigration authorities more time to take custody of the person.

Immigration authorities send a detainer request when someone booked and fingerprinted on local charges matches with a federal database of suspected immigration violators. An immigration officer signs a detention request, asserting that there is probable cause that the person is subject to deportation.

Creedle's suit doesn't explain why he was listed in a database of suspected immigration violators, and an Immigration spokesman said he could not comment on the case. The spokesman, Nestor Yglesias, said the requests are generally reliable and subject to the same kind of safeguards that lead police to file criminal charges.

"Probable cause is a standard with which all law enforcement officers are familiar," he said in a statement. U.S. "immigration officers are trained on this legal standard and apply the standard every day when making arrests, as well as when issuing detainers."

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