Southern Poverty Law Center sues ICE & Customs and Border Protection for withholding documents in Florida immigration cases

Florida Phoenix

Florida Immigrant CoalitionThe Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed lawsuits against two federal government agencies on Wednesday, saying that the government is withholding public information about Florida’s undocumented immigrants.

The social justice group, which is based in Alabama but has been working in Florida in recent years, sued the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) for failing to provide official information about the agency apprehending undocumented immigrants on buses and bus stops in January.

A video posted on social media by the Florida Immigrant Coalition in January showing border agents asking people in South Florida to take their belongings and leave buses went viral. The group asked for information regarding that incident and two other published reports about CBP agents going on buses to apprehend people in Miami and Tampa.

The CBP responded back to the group that its original information request was “too broad in scope or did not specifically identify the records which you are seeking,” an allegation that the group disputes.

The second lawsuit has been filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for failing to provide more information about an agreement announced in January between 17 Florida sheriffs and ICE which allows the sheriffs to detain undocumented immigrants in county jails (there are now more than 20 sheriffs who have entered the agreement.)

Under the agreement, sheriffs can hold undocumented immigrants with a civil warrant, not a judicial warrant, for up to 48 hours. The Southern Poverty Law Center points out that federal court rulings say that it unconstitutional for local law enforcement agencies to detain undocumented immigrants in this way.

The SPLC says that five months after the group requested information about the agreement, it has received nothing back from the feds, which SPLC maintains is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Without information, SPLC’s suit says, it’s difficult to determine whether the agreement between the sheriffs and ICE violates “the Fourth Amendment’s protection against being held without probable cause.”

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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