It is no surprise that since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, immigration raids and deportations have increased. President Trump campaigned on harsh anti-immigration policies, and has continued to take a stance against all types of immigration. He appointed an attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who was well known as a senator for being fiercely opposed to illegal immigration. His pick for chief of the Department of Homeland Security — and now his Chief of Staff — has also taken a hardline on immigration issues.

In response to the harsh directives against immigrants issued by the Trump administration, many cities across the country declared themselves “sanctuary cities.” These cities stated that they would not turn over undocumented immigrants to federal immigration authorities. President Trump swiftly drafted an executive order that declared that any city that failed to turn over undocumented immigrants from local jails to federal authorities would lose federal grant money. Miami-Dade County was the first municipality to comply with this executive order, instructing jails to “fully cooperating” with President Trump’s executive order and to send any undocumented immigrants detained in local jails to federal immigration agencies. In doing so, the mayor of Miami-Dade County Carlos Giminez (himself a naturalized U.S. citizen) promised that police officers would not act as immigration agents.

Florida Police Checking Immigration Status on Minor Traffic Stops

Despite the promise made by Mayor Giminez, law enforcement officials across South Florida have stepped up enforcement of immigration laws — and are acting as de facto immigration agents. Once undocumented immigrants are detained, they are then handed over to federal authorities and deported, often over something as minor as a traffic violation.

Take the case of Marcos Antonio Huete, a 31 year old Honduran immigrant. Mr. Huete was riding his bike to work when he was hit by a truck. Despite the fact that Mr. Huete laying injured on the street after being hit by a truck, the first officer who responded to the scene did not bother to check if he was OK. Instead, body camera footage revealed that his only concern was Mr. Huete’s immigration status: “You illegal? Are you illegal? Citizen or no? You speak English? You got ID? You got a passport, visa, what.” It was only when a second police officer arrived on the scene that Mr. Huete was asked if he needed an ambulance or medical assistance. Mr. Huete was eventually taken to the hospital by his sister. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHP) later charged him for obstructing or hindering traffic for allegedly darting out in front of the woman’s truck the driver of the truck who hit Mr. Huete was not charged. The police then called federal immigration authorities, who detained Mr. Huete. Mr. Huete is now awaiting deportation.

In a separate incident, the same police officer, David Lariz, pulled over Nestor Alfredo Duarte, an Argentinian immigrant. The stop was made for an alleged traffic violation, but the officer immediately began questioning Mr. Duarte about his immigration status, asking him why he did not have his legal documents. At one point, Officer Lariz asked Mr. Duarte, “Sixteen years you’ve been in the United States and you haven’t bothered to do anything to get anything?” As with Mr. Huete, Officer Lariz reported Mr. Duarte to federal immigration authorities, and Mr. Duarte is now in custody and facing deportation.

Raul Quiroga is also facing deportation after living in the United States for 15 years. Mr. Quiroga is an Argentinian immigrant, and is a married father of two. He was involved in minor car crash in May of this year, and the FHP trooper that responded asked for his license and registration. Because Florida does not allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license, Mr. Quiroga did not have a license. Mr. Quiroga is now awaiting deportation because of this minor fender bender. It is unclear how federal authorities learned of the accident and Mr. Quiroga’s immigration status.

Throughout Florida and particularly in South Florida, immigrants form the backbone of our communities. Despite promises to not serve as immigration agents under the Trump administration’s severe new policies, it is evident that many Florida police officers have taken it upon themselves to enforce federal immigration law even when it is wholly unnecessary to do so. When a person is injured in a traffic accident or has allegedly committed a minor traffic offense, immigration status should not be relevant. Yet for many undocumented immigrants, there is a real fear that any mistake or unfortunate situation could lead to the nightmare of deportation.

The Immigration Attorneys of Colombo & Hurd Are Here to Help

If you have concerns regarding your immigration status or are worried about how a routine traffic stop may lead to serious legal difficulties, the seasoned immigration law attorneys of Colombo & Hurd can help. Many of our attorneys are immigrants themselves, and understand the anxiety and stress that can come with being an immigrant in the United States. Contact us today at our Orlando office at (407) 478-1111 or our Miami office at (305) 455-0590 to schedule a confidential consultation.