weakening economy has prodded disgruntled Americans into a search for scapegoats, many hard-working, tax-paying immigrants with significant ties
to the U.S., full-time jobs and American spouses
and children, have been forced underground. 5 Even
when they have been victims of hate crimes, they
avoid contact with law enforcement.
My agency, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), has met with thousands of these immigrants since 9/11. A non-profit group dedicated to
protecting the basic rights of immigrants, FIAC has
documented their stories to put a face on the injustices being committed against them.
Our work has provided ample evidence that the
barrage of anti-immigrant laws and regulations, often
propelled by right-wing rhetoric, is an assault on the
fundamental civil liberties of all. But our research
also makes clear that driving immigrants further
offices in these counties has a tip line for reporting
suspected undocumented workers. 7 Following the narrow defeat of anti-immigrant ordinances in Palm Bay,
local police used a trespassing law to bring criminal
charges against suspect Hispanics and turn them over
to Border Patrol. 8
In a climate that encourages overzealous policing,
elaborate dragnets often employ racial profiling. 9 In
Florida, the Bay County sheriff who prosecutes immigrants for using false documents has been accused of
such racial profiling by Hispanics. 10 Across the state,
immigrants traveling to work or to visit relatives
are often targeted. Border Patrol agents spend hours
looking for undocumented immigrants driving on
Florida’s Turnpike. 11
Law enforcement authorities in Florida and elsewhere are increasingly entering into agreements with
the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to act
Border Patrol agents spend hours
looking for undocumented immigrants
driving on Florida’s turnpike.
underground does nothing to fix our broken immigration system.
It only makes matters worse.
Overzealous Law Enforcement
A first step toward changing this situation must be to
back away from the exclusive focus on law enforcement as a solution. Florida provides some poignant
examples of the current trend. Sheriff deputies from
Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties are arresting immigrants without ICE assistance, claiming they are
responding to tips about identity fraud. 6 The sheriff’s
Cheryl Little is Co-Founder of the Florida
Immigrant Advocacy Center and has served
as Executive Director since 1996.
as ICE agents, a practice which reduces already limited crime-fighting resources of local police. 12 These
agreements can be enticing to sheriffs in smaller
counties anxious to foster a get-tough reputation and
build arrest statistics by detaining suspected “illegals.”
Although many police chiefs are opposed, such agreements are increasingly attractive to many sheriffs who
see this as an easy way to mollify angry constituents.
Last summer, U. S. Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL)
urged ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Myers to open an
ICE office in Okaloosa County, Florida. 13 In 2007, the
Collier County (Florida) Sheriff’s Department signed
a Memorandum of Understanding with DHS. More
such agreements are sure to follow. 14
If local sheriffs are overzealous, they are only following a path blazed by federal agents. Earlier this
year, congressional witnesses charged that ICE’s tactics