From Our Blog

Despite Promises, Florida Police Are Acting Like Immigration Agents And Separating Families

Thomas Kennedy
6.July.17

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post.

Driving without a license can be a daily nerve wrecking experience for a lot of undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States. In a city like Miami, where a lack of public transportation makes driving a necessity for working class people, that fear is palpable.

I grew up undocumented here with my family. My heart dropped if my parents called me to say they had been involved in a minor traffic incident or pulled over by police. We understood that the simplest interaction with the police could potentially lead to detainment and possible deportation. And my family would be split apart.

Those fears have exacerbated because of the harsh anti-immigrant policies espoused by the Trump administration. Trump has threatened to pull federal funding from “sanctuary cities,” which choose not to turn over suspected undocumented immigrants to federal immigration agencies. Miami-Dade County was the first municipality to comply with Trump’s executive action and is currently facing a lawsuit by the University of Miami Law Clinic and the ACLU over its decision to put immigrants living in the County at risk.

Miami Dade County Mayor repeatedly claimed when making the decision to comply with Trump’s order on sanctuary cities that police officers would not act as immigration officials.

Reality has shown otherwise.

Marcos Antonio Huete, a 31 year-old Honduran immigrant, was riding his bike to work when he was hit by a pickup truck. As he lay injured on the side of the road, police officer David Lariz showed up at the scene and questioned him about his immigration status before offering medical care. “You illegal? Are you illegal? Citizen or no? You speak English? You got ID? You got a passport, visa, what,” Lariz is seen asking Huete in the footage taken by his body cam.

After his release from the hospital, Huete was fined $75 and detained by federal immigration agents who took him to the Krome Detention Center in Miami Florida, where he awaits deportation proceedings.

Not long after the incident with Huete, Officer Lariz pulled over another undocumented immigrant for an alleged traffic violation and questioned him regarding his legal status.

“So why don’t you have your legal documents?” Officer Lariz is seen asking Nestor Alfredo Duarte, who he forced to repeatedly say he was “illegal” and only had an Argentinean ID on his possession. “Sixteen years you’ve been in the United States and you haven’t bothered to do anything to get anything?” Officer Lariz is shown asking Duarte. After their interaction, Officer Lariz reported Duarte to border patrol. Duarte now also faces deportation proceedings.

In similar fashion, father of two Raul Quiroga ended up detained and facing possible deportation after a fender bender. Quiroga, who lived in the United States for 15 years, was driving a pick up truck when he was involved in minor collision. A state trooper showed up and asked Quiroga for his driver’s license and registration.

Florida is not among the states that enacted laws permitting undocumented immigrants to obtain a drivers license, so Quiroga was detained and eventually taken to the Broward Transitional Center, a private immigration detention facility. His family is now left to make ends meet without Quiroga.

It’s clear that politicians like Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez broke promises they made when they said local police would not act as immigration enforcement agents. Now, immigrant families are suffering the consequences of the cruel and inhumane anti-immigrant policies that have trickled down from the Trump administration to our local government. At a time when Congress is voting on harsh anti-immigrant legislation like the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” or “Kate’s Law,” which seek to erode the trust between the public and authorities, we need local governments to stand up for what is right and protect vulnerable immigrant communities.

Thomas Kennedy is a writing fellow for the Center for Community Change.