An undocumented Honduran woman who claims she was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned for eight days in a central Florida jail filed suit Tuesday against the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Tavares.
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of Rita Cote by the American Civil Liberties Union, stipulates that local law enforcement agencies do not have the authority to enforce immigration laws, in addition to the fact that police cannot arrest and detain an individual without cause or charges.
As reported by Hispanically Speaking News:
On February 16, 2009, the now mother of four was arrested after police arrived at her Tavares, Florida home in response to a call about an attack on her sister.
After reportedly being beaten by her ex-boyfriend, Cote’s sister needed Rita to translate for her to the police as she did not speak English. While attempting to tell the officers that her sister wanted to press charged, Cote was questioned about her immigration status.
Cote was brought to Florida by her parents when she was just a child, and when she couldn’t provide documentation to confirm her status, she was arrested in front of her children and taken to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Since emigrating with her parents to the United States in the late ’90s after their home in Honduras was destroyed by Hurricane Mitch, Cote married a U.S. citizen and Gulf War veteran with whom she has four children. Police ran her name through their database, which alerted them that she’d been marked for deportation years earlier, and took her into custody.
Her lawyers note that the law states that Cote, who was held without seeing a judge or her family, should not have remained in custody for more than 48 hours. She was finally released when the ACLU learned of her case and obtained a writ of habeas corpus.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office acknowledges it made a mistake in the case and insists it is an isolated incident, yet an ACLU review of jail bookings from 2007 to 2009 shows that hundreds have been unlawfully held.
The Orlando Sentinel reports:
In 2009, the agency admitted a “policy failure” contributed to Cote’s extended stay in their jail but said staff are not to blame for the oversight. No disciplinary action was taken against any employees.
“If we come across an illegal immigrant and Border Patrol or immigration enforcement authorizes us to detain her, we do that,” Herrell told the Orlando Sentinel in 2009.
Still, the ACLU contends neither the Sheriff’s Office nor Tavares police had legal authority to arrest Cote. They said it’s a frequent practice, citing more than 200 cases where individuals—most undocumented—were arrested without having committed a crime.
“Because she looks Hispanic and speaks English with a strong accent they take it upon themselves to investigate her immigration status even though they have no authority to do it,” [ACLU of Florida Senior Attorney Glenn] Katon said.
Herrell called the organization’s accusations “baseless,” in a 2009 statement, citing their policy prohibiting bias-based profiling.
Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders campaigned on deporting illegal aliens, yet Cote’s lawyers insist his office is taking the issue too far and as a result violating the protections afforded to individuals by the Constitution — even those living in the U.S. illegally.
According to the ACLU:
The fundamental constitutional protections of due process and equal protection embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to every “person” and are not limited to citizens. The framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as well as the authors and ratifiers of post-Civil War amendments, all understood the essential importance of protecting non-citizens against governmental abuse and discrimination.
Our nation has unquestioned authority to control its borders and to regulate immigration. But we must exercise the awesome power to exclude or deport immigrants consistent with the rule of law, the fundamental norms of humanity and the requirements of the Constitution.