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Judge Shoots Down Miami-Dade Deportation Policy To Follow Trump Immigration Order

Roberto Koltun
Miami Herald
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch.

This week Miami-Dade County faced the first court challenge to its decision to help the feds detain undocumented immigrants. Friday morning a judge declared part of that policy unconstitutional – but his ruling is likely just the first of many rounds.

Back in January, President Trump ordered local governments to comply with federal requests to detain arrested immigrants for deportation. Trump warned they would lose federal funding if they didn’t. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, fearful the county could lose more than $300 million in federal grants, was the first in the country to cooperate.

His move provoked widespread protests – and a state court challenge on behalf of Haitian immigrant James Lacroix, who had been arrested for numerous driver’s license violations. Lacroix was due to be released this past Tuesday – but Wednesday the county handed him over to the federal authorities.

We must protect our country from a great many things; but from nothing so much so much as from the loss of our historic rights and liberties - Judge Milton Hirsch

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch has now ruled that this violated Lacroix’s constitutional rights.

“If the case is closed, they have to be released," said Lacroix's attorney, Philip Reizenstein. "We don’t keep people in jail in this country for no reason while the federal government decides if they’re going to take custody of them or not.”

The Trump administration insists the immigration detain policy is meant to enhance national security. But Judge Hirsch said Lacroix’s federal detention stepped on state’s rights not to be forced to take on federal duties like immigration enforcement. “The price,” Hirsch wrote, “would be the subjugation of state and local governments…to a central government of unlimited power.”

“Of course, we must protect our country from the problems associated with unregulated immigrations,” Judge 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.”

The county and the Trump administration are all but certain to appeal. Reizenstein hopes they do.

James Lacroix

“I’d love the federal government to get involved," he said. "I would love them to intervene on this appeal, and I would love to get them in writing on this and make them defend their policies.”

In his ruling, Hirsch wrote that while Miami may not be a self-designated sanctuary city for immigrants, “America is…a sanctuary country.

The immediate impact of the ruling was unclear. For one thing, the judge did not explicitly order Miami-Dade jailers to stop honoring requests by the federal government to hold people slated for deportation. Hirsch’s ruling also could be delayed by an appeal, which the mayor’s office said would be filed immediately.

Read more at our news partner, the Miami Herald

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.