Skip to main content

SPLC sues Florida officials over law requiring police to act as ICE agents

The SPLC and its partners sued top Florida officials today over a new state law that requires local police to act as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

The suit argues that the law – which also prohibits sanctuary policies that block local governments from cooperating with federal immigration authorities – is unconstitutional and will hurt the most vulnerable residents.

“Entangling ICE and local law enforcement leads to racial profiling, civil rights violations, isolation of immigrant communities, and unjust deportations,” said Paul Chavez, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. 

The SPLC released a video this morning explaining how laws like Florida’s devastated other Southern states like Alabama and Georgia. Florida lawmakers ignored these dire warnings.

This lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida, seeks an injunction that would stop the law, which went into effect on July 1, from being implemented any further.

Turning local police into federal immigration agents undermines any trust the police have built with the immigrant community, which ultimately undermines public safety for all Floridians, the lawsuit states.

“Racial and national origin minorities who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking will be deterred from accessing services for crime, placing them at greater risk and undermining public safety,” the lawsuit states.

What’s more, the law empowers abusive employers and domestic partners to threaten immigrants with detention and deportation if they do not continue to tolerate the abuse.

Latinos are especially vulnerable to racial profiling when law enforcement officers assume the role of federal agents, the lawsuit states, adding that cities across the country have seen an increase in the number of Latinos who are stopped, questioned, and detained after formal collaborations with ICE have been implemented.

The suit describes how the Florida law requires local law enforcement to use their “best efforts” to support the enforcement of federal immigration law, but it never defines “best efforts,” or who will define it – leaving local governments and law enforcement struggling to interpret the provision.

“Our police are responsible for maintaining public safety,” South Miami Mayor Philip K. Stoddard said at a special city council meeting where the city voted to join the lawsuit as one of the plaintiffs. “And as soon as they are seen as somebody who might turn you in if you call for assistance, they are no longer trusted.”

The SPLC and its partners filed the lawsuit – which names Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody as defendants – on behalf of several agencies that advocate for the rights of immigrants. The suit argues that several sections of the law are unconstitutionally vague, preempted by federal law, and violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Florida Immigrant CoalitionFarmworker Association of FloridaWeCount!Americans for Immigrant JusticeHope Community CenterQLatinxWestminster Presbyterian ChurchThe Guatemalan-Maya Center, Inc.Family Action Network Movement and the City of South Miami.

In addition to the SPLC, the plaintiffs are represented by the Community Justice Project and the Immigration Clinic of the University of Miami School of Law.

“This law does nothing for Florida’s safety and actually does more harm than good,” said Thomas Kennedy, political director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, one of the plaintiffs. “When immigrants are forced to live in the shadows, it has a negative effect on all Americans.”

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images