ICE Issued False Deportation Requests for 420 U.S. Citizens in Miami-Dade, ACLU Reports

ICE Issued False Deportation Requests for 420 U.S. Citizens in Miami-Dade, ACLU Reports

Two American citizens who live in South Florida — Miamian Garland Creedle and Keys resident Peter Sean Brown — sued Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties after being wrongly held in jail and nearly deported thanks to mistaken paperwork from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Frighteningly, those two people are not alone. According to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union, ICE erred in issuing 420 "detainer requests" for U.S. citizens in Miami-Dade from 2017 to 2019 alone. It's unclear how many of those 420 people were actually detained by county police or jails, but it's possible dozens or hundreds of Americans have been sitting behind bars in the Magic City awaiting wrongful deportation.

The ACLU obtained Miami-Dade's ICE detainer documents as part of Creedle's lawsuit against the county. According to the group's report, ICE voluntarily rescinded 83 of those requests after likely realizing the orders were mistakes.

"These errors can have profound consequences, both for the people who are wrongly held and for the agencies that hold them," the report states. "As recent cases illustrate, U.S. citizens have been kept in jail away from their jobs and families, and they have faced the terror of being told they would soon be deported from their only home. Many have spent time in immigration jail, and some have even been deported. Local police and sheriffs, in turn, have faced immense litigation costs and damages liability to the U.S. citizens they have held for ICE."

A spokespserson for ICE in Miami declined to comment due to pending litigation with the ACLU. But according to the report, false detainer requests are fairly common across the nation. The ACLU suspects three possible reasons: First, immigrant-rights groups say ICE's databases are filled with outdated information. (For example, the ACLU says ICE often fails to track when people become naturalized citizens.) Second, the Trump administration in 2017 expanded the types of immigrants ICE is encouraged to detain, which critics say allows the agency to process more requests and thus become sloppier with information. Third, the ACLU pointed to a recent CNN investigation that showed ICE agents routinely forging their bosses' signatures on critical detention warrants to skip mandatory document reviews.

False positives have occurred in other cities, but seemingly not to the extent they have in Miami. In Rhode Island, ICE issued 462 detainers for U.S. citizens over a ten-year period. During that same decade, ICE issued 814 false detainers in Travis County, Texas, which includes the city of Austin.

Spencer Amdur, a California-based attorney with the ACLU's Immigrant Rights Project, told New Times yesterday the startlingly high number of false detainer requests shows Miami-Dade County should rethink its cooperation with ICE. And, he said, state lawmakers should reconsider SB 168, a bill rapidly moving through the Florida Legislature that would force local governments to honor these ICE requests.

"This is a pretty shocking revelation," he said. "ICE has just regularly been sending Miami-Dade requests to jail U.S. citizens for deportation. This shouldn’t happen more than once. For it to happen potentially hundreds of times in just a two-year period, it raises very serious doubts about ICE’s detainer system and the risks the county is taking by signing up for it."

Miami-Dade finds itself in this mess thanks to County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. In January 2017, then-new President Donald Trump issued a legally flimsy order demanding towns cease acting as "sanctuary cities" that refuse ICE's detainer requests. Many cities had stopped honoring ICE's orders because they require local expenditures of time and money to hold prisoners on the federal government's behalf. Numerous courts have ruled this practice unconstitutional. Many law enforcement officials, including some in Miami-Dade, also say local compliance with ICE requests often deters immigrant crime victims from reporting incidents to police.

But shortly after Trump issued his order, Gimenez capitulated. He issued his own order demanding that Miami-Dade start holding ICE detainees in its jails again. Protests ensued, including a weeklong activist hunger strike outside county hall. But the county commission in February 2017 voted 9-3 to ratify Gimenez's decision.

Miami-Dade has received no financial benefit from the Trump administration as a result. But the county has spent millions holding immigrants for ICE and been repeatedly sued in the process.

Moreover, the two aforementioned victims in South Florida have sued Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, respectively. They tell similar stories.

The first, Garland Creedle, was held overnight in the Miami-Dade jail system and nearly deported to Honduras. Though Creedle was born in Honduras, his parents are American and he is legally considered a U.S. citizen. ICE previously tried to deport him in 2015 but relented and agreed that he is, in fact, an American. It took Dade County at least 24 hours to realize ICE had mistakenly ordered Creedle's detention two years ago. His suit is still open, but a judge last November ruled the county can be held liable for ICE's mistake.

Another American, Peter Sean Brown, sued ICE and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office last year. Brown was born in Philadelphia, but that didn't stop cops from handing him over to ICE in April 2018. Brown moved to the Florida Keys roughly a decade ago. He voluntarily showed up at a police headquarters while on probation for what he called a "low-level, marijuana-related offense." But when the cops ran Brown's fingerprints through an FBI database, an ICE request popped onscreen and said he was to be deported to Jamaica. Brown says he's been to the island only for a single day while on a cruise. Instead of believing his story, Monroe jail guards laughed at him, sang the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme (about living in Philadelphia), and quoted Bob Marley in an offensive Jamaican accent. Monroe jail officials then turned Brown over to ICE, which drove him all the way to Miami-Dade's Krome Service Processing Center. After ICE realized its mistake, Brown says the agency simply dumped him in Miami with no way to get home.

Amdur, the ACLU lawyer, said the organization became concerned after two false-imprisonment cases popped up in such a short period of time.

"We think this shows why, in general, law enforcement agencies shouldn’t be honoring detainer requests," Amdur said. "They're not reliable enough. This new info makes it clear that the state shouldn’t be forcing its law enforcement agencies to do work for ICE."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.