Florida Keys sheriff illegally jails immigrants, ACLU says

Relying on an out-of-date federal detainer form, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is locking up immigrants in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the American Civil Liberties Union and two other groups say.

Citing case law, three ACLU attorneys sent a letter to Sheriff Rick Ramsay on Monday accusing his staff of holding people on a request by the federal government rather than a court order or judge’s warrant.

“An immigration detainer (or ‘immigration hold’) is not a court order or judicial warrant and provides no legal authority to continue holding an individual in custody,” the ACLU lawyers wrote. “An immigration detainer is simply a request by a federal immigration agency that a local jail continue to detain an individual after he or she would otherwise be released in order to allow the agency to take custody of that individual.”

Monroe County jails house about 60 federal inmates for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the sheriff said, but he hadn’t been contacted by the ACLU or received the accusation as of Monday night.

“It’s hard to comment because I’m unaware of what they’re talking about,” Ramsay said Monday. “We deny any illegal detention of immigrants.”

The accusation comes after a specific case, said ACLU staff attorney Amien Kacou, who added the group can’t discuss it now.

“More generally, this announcement also responds to reports from local community members and other Floridians who contacted the ACLU earlier this year to express their concerns..,” Kacou said in an email to the Keynoter.

The ACLU hasn’t met with Ramsay in person, Kacou said, but its “partners on the ground” have been in contact with the Monroe Sheriff’s Office to discuss its immigration policy and detainer cases in particular.

Joining the ACLU in the accusations are the Southern Poverty Law Center and LatinoJustice.

“Local jails that detain individuals pursuant to such detainers have been found to violate the Fourth Amendment,” the ACLU lawyers wrote. “We urge you to stop honoring these detainers immediately, as continued enforcement exposes your county to liability. Beyond that, such collaboration with immigration enforcement erodes community trust and endangers public safety by deterring immigrants from reporting crimes.”

Ramsay said he will comment once he reviews the material.