It’s no secret that immigration enforcement has increased in recent years under President Donald Trump’s administration, the stated purpose being to target undocumented residents who commit crimes. However, The Tampa Bay Times reports that federal data shows detention of immigrants with no criminal conviction has soared. This is especially true here in Florida, where arrests of undocumented persons with no criminal records were seven times more likely to be arrested now than they were four years ago – twice the national average.
As our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers understand it, traffic offenses in particular are the primary vehicle by which this crackdown is being facilitated. Immigration attorneys report clients frequently being pulled over on their way to work for minor traffic infractions. Some agencies are accused of relying on racial profiling to net the highest number of undocumented immigrants, with heavy (some say excessive) enforcement of traffic laws being carried out in Hispanic neighborhoods.
It is true that anyone – regardless of criminal background – can be arrested, detained and deported. However, the priority has historically been to target undocumented individuals who pose the greatest threat to public safety, border security and national security.
That doesn’t appear to be what’s happening.
In fact, Trump signed an executive order days after taking office that requires federal agents not to make discretionary exceptions when enforcing U.S. immigration law. When President Barack Obama was in office, those stopped for minor offenses were deemed a lower priority for already-taxed immigration officials, with about 85 percent of deportations involving someone with a prior criminal conviction. Now, that figure is at about 65 percent.
Knowing this makes it imperative that individuals arrested or cited for traffic violations seek the services of a qualified traffic defense attorney. Because even though a lack of a conviction on a traffic offense is no guarantee a person won’t be targeted by federal authorities, officials with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement were quick to note that the majority of those arrested for immigration violations do have either a criminal conviction or have a pending charge – but that statement doesn’t account for the seriousness of the crime involved. In many cases, we’re talking about convictions for traffic offenses.
Federal data shows about 4 in 10 of the crimes to which the ICE representative referred were for either drugs or traffic offenses. The No. 1 offense – accounting for about 15 percent of those charges – was DUI, in Florida filed under F.S. 316.193.
One of the reasons immigrants in Florida need to be especially careful is because of a federal provision of law that considers Florida a border state. That statute allows federal agents jurisdiction to any border state within 100 miles of a border, defined as an external boundary – which includes oceans. Within 100 miles of the coasts (which amounts to the entire state), federal immigration agents are allowed to question or arrest anyone – and not have a warrant. As our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys can explain, what they do need to have is reasonable cause to believe the individual is here unlawfully.
Immigration authorities operating within the state are finding they now have an extensive backlog of cases, as they are bogged down by so many that are generally considered low priority. Most enforcement has taken place in concentrated urban centers, such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Despite Trump’s claims, ICE is arresting way more immigrants without criminal records — especially in Florida, July 26, 2019, By Ben Leonard, The New York Times