A Florida judge ruled on Friday that it was unconstitutional to detain a Haitian immigrant in Miami-Dade County, where the mayor has caved to President Donald Trump’s order cracking down on “sanctuary cities.”
Judge Milton Hirsch, of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit, said the president’s January order effectively coerced local officials into doing the federal government’s “bidding” by making them agree to hold the detainee, James Lacroix, so that he could be handed over to immigration authorities to be deported ― even though he had no criminal charges or sentences pending against him.
Miami-Dade’s decision to hold Lacroix at the behest of Immigration and Customs Enforcement rendered the county the “handmaiden” of the federal government and violated the 10th Amendment, the judge said.
Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25 aimed at scaring local authorities around the country into cooperating with ICE efforts by saying he would deny federal funding to “sanctuary cities.” Many legal experts disputed whether the president had the authority to do so, and state and local officials around the country said they would not back down from their policies.
But the Miami-Dade mayor, Carlos Gimenez (R), became the first in the nation to abandon an existing immigration policy. Even before facing a threat to funding, Gimenez said the county would abandon its previous policy against assisting ICE by continuing to detain certain individuals it would otherwise release, such as people who paid a bond or weren’t charged with a crime. Trump praised the move immediately.
We must protect our country from a great many things; but from nothing so much as from the loss of our historic rights and liberties. Judge Milton Hirsch
Hirsch’s ruling, which contained references to the founding fathers and the Bible, relied heavily on a Supreme Court decision by the late Justice Antonin Scalia that laid out what the federal government is allowed to do in its relationship with the states.
“Coercion achieved by financial starvation is no less effective than coercion achieved at sword’s point,” Hirsch wrote.
“The ‘people’ to whom the Tenth Amendment refers include the native-born as well as the naturalized citizen; the native English speaker as well as the speaker for whom English is a second, or third, language; the scion of old Yankee stock as well as the newcomer who took the oath of citizenship yesterday,” he said.
“Miami is not, and has never been, a sanctuary city,” Hirsch added. “But America is, and has always been, a sanctuary country.”
According to the Miami Herald, which first reported on the ruling, Miami-Dade immediately appealed the ruling, noting that the legal issues in the case are best left to a federal court to decide. It’s unclear if Lacroix was immediately released.
Hirsch’s ruling notes that the issue in Miami-Dade “has nothing to do with affording ‘sanctuary’ to those unlawfully in this country,” but is instead about the separation of powers between the state and federal government laid out in the 10th Amendment. The judge wrote that it was understandable that ICE would attempt to use the infrastructure and human resources of local corrections departments to aid in their mission, but that doing so would mean subjugating state and local government.
“Of course we must protect our country from the problems associated with unregulated immigration,” Hirsch wrote. “We must protect our country from a great many things; but from nothing so much as from the loss of our historic rights and liberties.”
“America was not made for those who dream of power,” he added. “America was made for those with the power to dream.”
Trump’s campaign against “sanctuary cities” has been complicated by the fact that there’s no single definition of the term. Nearly all so-called “sanctuary cities” cooperate with ICE to some degree, but they limit their assistance in various ways. Most often, jurisdictions decline to hold certain individuals for ICE beyond the time they would otherwise have been released.
As in other localities around the country, Miami-Dade officials decided in 2013 to hold individuals based on ICE “detainer” requests only if the federal government reimbursed the cost and if the person had been convicted of a felony or had a pending felony charge. They argued this would allow them to avoid violating an individual’s constitutional rights and would save the county money. Other jurisdictions in the U.S. followed suit after a number of rulings across the country warned that they could be held liable if their cooperation with the federal government led to the wrongful detention of individuals.