by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….
It was around 7 am, Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Fricke had just stopped *Elena Bella* on the side of US 1 at the entrance to Stock Island. He believed her car windows may have been too dark. They weren’t, but she was from Honduras. She had no papers. Border Patrol was called and *Elena” was arrested for driving without a license.
At the jail on that late winter morning things got complicated: Border Patrol asks the Sheriff to keep *Elena* locked up for at least 2 days. However, they have no warrant and the local judge has just set a $500 bond for her release on the no DL charge. The bond is promptly paid by her family.
So here it was, the highly politicly charged dilemma that has dogged the sheriff’s office for almost a year: Was she free to go or could she be kept in jail without a warrant?
Few of our articles have been debated by readers as passionately as those concerning immigration enforcement. It’s a difficult issue.
One of *Elena’s* first childhood memories is of waking up in a house in flames while gang members’ bullets riddled the windows. Then it was life on the run, changing schools all the time, hiding with her mother in the Honduras countryside trying to escape the sworn vengeance of the Marras (Honduran gang) against her family. Not all of them made it out alive. At 18 *Elena* thought she was old enough to try to escape to the US. At the border she was kidnaped by Mexican men who locked her up in a basement.
She managed to escape and has since made it to Key West. She has 2 young children, one born in Key West. *Elena* is one of those discrete figures you see in our hotel hallways, head down, always working. Yet at the time she was stopped by Deputy Fricke, in-spite of her American born child, she had no legal status.
Could the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office legally grant Border Patrol’s request to hold *Elena* in jail while Border Patrol “investigates her status.” If so, it would mean she would be kept in jail on a civil matter (most immigration cases are civil cases) without seeing a federal judge when even criminal defendants cannot legally be kept in jail without a prompt first appearance before a judge.
In fact, the Florida Sheriffs’ Association has been complaining that Border Patrol detainer holds are a request by the federal government for Sheriffs to violate the 4th amendment of the US Constitution. (Need for a warrant based on probable cause.)
At their 2017 conference, Florida sheriffs said that the Trump administration has tagged them as traitors when they’ve refused to collaborate with Border Patrol. In a worst case scenario a county can find itself on the infamous DOJ list of “sanctuary counties” which can mean federal cutbacks.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office has contracts worth over 1.7 million dollars with the federal government for use of the county jails.
To make matters worse the ACLU got involved. On December 4, 2017 the ACLU, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center and Latino Justice, put Sheriff Rick Ramsey on notice that holding immigrants without charge and without a judicial warrant was a violation of civil rights.
Sheriff Rick Ramsey, who is an astute politician, has skillfully navigated those troubled waters. When asked, his office told The Blue Paper that suspected illegal immigrants would not be held after posting bond. However, aside from the one time that a pesky immigration lawyer came banging at the jail gate brandishing the US Constitution, the Sheriff has been honoring all Border Patrol detainer hold requests.
It may seem that Sheriff Ramsey’s diplomacy has paid off. He has obtained an agreement with the federal government by which he will no longer be asked to hold suspected illegal immigrants without a warrant. Under this Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) the sheriff’s office will also be compensated by the Feds at the rate of $50 per immigrant who is held under an immigration warrant.
In 2017 Miami-Dade County spent $12.5 Million holding Border Patrol detainees, while the federal government refused to foot the bill.
It is unclear, however, whether the federal government agreeing to provide warrants to sherriffs is much more than a play on words. When one looks into how those so-called “warrants” are issued it appears that any field agent can sign them, no judge has to weigh in.
*Elena* was kept in the county jail without a warrant even after paying bail and until Border Patrol came to pick her up. She then stayed in ICE’s Broward Transitional Center for over six months before being released pending determination of her request for asylum. In disbelief, after so much anguish for the young mother of two, *Elena’s* mother asked us, “What was the point then?”
The family had told *Elena’s* children that their mother was “in school.” During one of our visits, *Elena’s* tiny daughter took us aside and said, “I am going to school too, but I am here for the vacation. How come mama doesn’t even come see me for the vacation?” What were we supposed to say?
- Note: The name “Elena Bella” is an alias created by The Blue Paper to ensure that this article will not jeopardize the young woman’s pending petition for asylum.
The ACLU’s FAQ’s on the new ICE agreement signed by Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and 16 other Florida Sheriffs:
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