Miami Barred From Detaining Immigrants in Blow to Trump Push

  • State judge says local units shouldn’t pay for federal program
  • ‘Sanctuary cities’ could lose federal money under Trump plan

President Donald Trump may have found another judge to tweet about.

Florida Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch in Miami ruled Friday that the city doesn’t have legal authority to detain an undocumented Haitian immigrant who isn’t wanted by Miami-Dade County or the state, on behalf of the federal government. Doing so violates the U.S. Constitution by forcing local governments to spend taxpayer money on federal initiatives, Hirsch ruled.

The decision in favor of James Lacroix, who fled Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and who had been a county prisoner, is a threat to Trump’s plan to strip so-called sanctuary cities of federal funding if they refuse to cooperate in his planned crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Among other things, the administration is asking municipal governments to hold immigrants it flags in local jails until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents can pick them up.

“A federal agency wants Lacroix to be a federal prisoner, but demands that the county do the imprisoning on the federal government’s behalf,” Hirsch said. “That is a demand that the federal government is constitutionally prohibited from enforcing, and it is a demand with which the local government is constitutionally prohibited from complying.”

The judge, a former criminal defense lawyer who was elected to the bench in 2010, peppered his ruling with literary and historical references, including a Biblical citation and excerpts from the “The Federalist Papers” and William Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” His conclusion includes a historical footnote on the Statue of Liberty that contains Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” with its famous lines “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Road Map

The argument made in Lacroix’s case is a federal one that applies "across the country," his lawyer, Phil Reizenstein, said in a phone interview. “Lawyers are going to have to fight for their clients on an individual level and the judge has given them a road map to do it.”

In the face of Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order seeking to expand enforcement of immigration laws, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez reversed county policy and “ordered county jails to comply with federal immigration detention requests,” according to the ruling.

The judge ruled that the so-called detainer requests “are not evidence that a crime has been committed, or that someone is in this country illegally. They are not evidence of anything.”

Lacroix’s lawyer said his argument is backed by a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court ruling written by Justice Antonin Scalia that concluded the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, a wide-ranging gun control law, violated the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment by forcing local law enforcement to carry out federal background checks to prevent criminals from buying guns. That landmark case was brought by a Montana sheriff who objected to “being pressed into federal service,” according to the ruling.

Crimes, Jobs

Trump has said the increased enforcement is needed to reduce crime and save jobs for citizens. ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias declined to comment on the ruling, citing the agency’s policy on pending litigation.

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Gimenez’s spokesman, Michael Hernandez, said Miami-Dade County has appealed, and that its policy of cooperating with the federal government’s detainer requests is unchanged. He said the metropolitan government’s cooperation is limited.

“Turning our local police officers into an immigration enforcement agency is not an option,” Hernandez said in a phone call.

Sanctuary Cities

Miami took a different route than San Francisco, which in January became the first U.S. city to sue Trump over his planned cuts to sanctuary cities, claiming the move violates immigrants’ rights and that the municipality is protected by the Tenth Amendment, which protects states from federal overreach.

A Seattle federal judge blocked Trump’s plan to suspend entry to the U.S. by refugees and anyone from seven predominantly Muslim nations, prompting the president to attack him via a Twitter post as a “so-called judge.” Before the election, Trump accused a San Diego federal judge of Mexican descent of being biased in a case alleging fraud by his Trump University real estate seminars.

The cases are Lacroix v. Junior, F17-376, F17-1770, Circuit Court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, Miami-Dade County, Florida.

— With assistance by Susannah Nesmith

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