A new state law requiring local police to act as ICE agents and prohibiting sanctuary policies is unconstitutional and will hurt the most vulnerable Floridians, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by the Immigration Clinic of the University of Miami School of Law, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Community Justice Project.
The suit was filed on behalf of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Farmworker Association of Florida, WeCount!, Americans for Immigrant Justice, Hope Community Center, QLatinx, Westminster Presbyterian United Church, The Guatemalan-Maya Center, Inc., Family Action Network Movement and the City of South Miami.
An Unconstitutional Law
“SB 168 is both unconstitutional and bad policy,” said Professor Rebecca Sharpless, director of the immigration clinic and co-counsel. “It unlawfully encroaches on areas governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act. And requiring that our towns and cities collaborate with ICE weakens our communities by increasing the risk of profiling, heightening distrust of the police, and chilling access to education.”
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida, seeks an injunction stopping any further implementation of the law, which went into effect July 1. The suit argues that several sections of the law are unconstitutionally vague, preempted by federal law, and violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
“Entangling ICE and local law enforcement leads to racial profiling, civil rights violations, isolation of immigrant communities, and unjust deportations,” said Paul Chavez, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project.
More Harm than Good
“This law does nothing for Florida’s safety and actually does more harm than good,” said Thomas Kennedy, political director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “When immigrants are forced to live in the shadows, it has a negative effect on all Americans.”
The law instructs local law enforcement to work with ICE. Turning local police into federal immigration agents undermines any trust the police have built with the immigrant community. It also requires local law enforcement to use their “best efforts” to support the enforcement of federal immigration law, but never defines what this means. It is unclear how “best efforts” will be defined, or who will define it. Local government entities and law enforcement agencies are struggling to interpret what this provision requires or prohibits.
Turning Police into Immigration Agents
“Our police are responsible for maintaining public safety,” said South Miami Mayor Philip K. Stoddard at a special city council meeting where the city voted to join this lawsuit. “And as soon as they are seen as somebody who might turn you in if you call for assistance, they are no longer trusted.”
When local police are de facto immigration agents, it empowers abusive employers and domestic partners to threaten immigrants. A relationship of trust between Florida’s immigrant community and government agencies is central to the public safety of the people of Florida.
This trust is threatened when state and local agencies are entangled with federal immigration enforcement. Whether it’s accessing a hurricane shelter, hospital, or reporting a crime, SB 168 places immigrant communities in fear of accessing vital services.
The full complaint can be viewed here.
A video on the flaws of the new law can be viewed here.