In January, sheriffs from 17 Florida counties announced plans to work more closely than ever with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to target immigrants from our community for deportation. We are gravely disappointed in the decisions of these 17 Florida county sheriffs that have consented to adopted these unconstitutional, xenophobic, and racist practices into their policing standards.
Members of the immigrant community across the State of Florida have already expressed fear in calling police to report crimes or provide information about criminals when they know their officers work in collaboration with immigration enforcement. In the past year alone, we saw a dramatic uptake in the number of ICE arrests in Florida, the highest in the country.
These partnerships between local law enforcement and ICE have led directly to the separation of families and the persecution of immigrants who have been part of our Florida community for decades. The criminal justice system addresses perceived threats to public safety, and no one is asking that immigrants be treated differently within that system. We are asking that immigrants receive the same treatment as any other person, that they are treated as innocent until proven guilty. The criminal justice system is separate and distinct from the immigration enforcement — linking the two leads to the criminalization of immigrants. It is the responsibility of our local law enforcement to protect the communities they serve, not exploit them. Collaborations with immigration enforcement makes everyone less safe.
Immigrants in Florida are also being targeted while riding buses and trains. On January 19th, Border Patrol agents boarded a Greyhound bus traveling from Miami to Orlando, demanding proof of citizenship from shocked passengers who argued that they had no reason to carry such documents on a local bus route that wasn’t crossing any borders. An elderly, Black, Jamaican woman was targeted, detained and is now imprisoned in a GEO for-profit prison. Less than a week later, a Black passenger from Trinidad traveling from Miami to Ft. Meyers was singled out, profiled, and led away from a Greyhound bus in handcuffs. Even more recently, a US permanent resident was illegally detained after being pick-up from a Greyhound station in Tampa, FL. Our partners at the Florida Immigrant Coalition have an active petition to end this practice: http://bit.ly/StopGreyhound.
Civil rights leaders from across the state released an official State of Florida Travel Advisory to inform the immigrant community across the state about the possible heightened dangers of traveling to counties that have cooperation orders with ICE. Although the entire state falls under the Travel Advisory, the following areas have increased security risks due to their their expanded collaboration with ICE: Miami-Dade, Bay, Brevard, Charlotte, Columbia, Hernando, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Suwannee, and Walton.
Early this morning, simultaneous press conferences were held across the State of Florida by the civil rights organizations that issued the travel advisory. In Orlando, the Membership Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition Isabel Sousa and Executive Director of QLatinx Christopher Cuevas attempted to speak with Greyhound bus management about their concerns regarding their continued collaboration with Border Patrol while a coalition of partners from across the Central Florida region gathered just outside of the station to host a public prayer for peace following their press conference.
Travelers to Florida are urged to take the following steps: (1) memorize the phone number for a licensed civil liberties and/or immigration attorney, (2) Discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, (3) text UNIDOS to 313131 to stay connected and receive Text Message Alerts (Standard rates apply), (4) call the Immigrant Hotline: 1-888-600-5762 to report raids, hate crimes and learn about your constitutional rights, and (5) research detailed information about how to engage with law enforcement from the ACLU.