Nothing on paper limits Florida Keys police from questioning suspects — or anyone they meet along the way — about their immigration status or citizenship.
Recent videos of a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputy asking two men, including one involved in a minor traffic crash, “Are you illegal?” stirred up the ire of civil rights activists who say the question goes too far in a nation built on freedom.
The Sheriff’s Office says deputies have done nothing wrong but Keys activists disagree.
“By not having a clear policy and leaving it up to the discretion of each officer, Sheriff Ramsay is putting our county in dangerous territory, allowing his officers to pursue lines of questioning that are outside of their job training and qualifications,” according to a statement by the Women’s March Florida Keys Chapter.
The Sheriff’s Office has no policy covering this territory.
“Sixteen years you’ve been here in the United States and you haven’t bothered to get anything,” Deputy David Lariz tells a man during a traffic stop May 23 in Key West, a city that had recently approved a softened version of a sanctuary-city policy.
Lariz had asked Marcos Huete-Hernandez, 31, who was later charged with causing the traffic crash while on his bicycle, the same questions April 27 on Stock Island. Huete-Hernandez, of Honduras, was detained in Miami and faces deportation and a criminal case in U.S. District Court.
“He admitted to being in the United States illegally and to having been previously deported,” according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court. Huete-Hernandez also admitted to illegally re-entering the country Dec. 14, 2015, and “continued to live and illegally work,” until the bike crash, wrote a Border Patrol agent.
He was scheduled for arraignment today in Key West on a charge of illegal reentry into the United States.
The Florida Highway Patrol also lacks any policy in this area.
“There is no FHP policy I found that restricts/prevents a trooper from asking questions related to citizenship/immigration status,” said Lt. Kathleen McKinney.
The Sheriff’s Office says after the April 27 crash Huete became a state police case without any help from deputies.
“This was a Florida Highway Patrol case,” said Deputy Becky Herrin, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office. “We did not arrest anyone, detain anyone, issue any citation nor did we ever call ICE or border patrol. We were simply assisting on scene.”
Key West Police Chief Donie Lee took steps to distance his department from the incident once it began making the rounds on social media and a Key West cop was seen on the video. That officer was only there to help with traffic, Lee said, and the crash took place outside of KWPD’s jurisdiction.
“The Key West Police Department’s stance on illegal immigration enforcement has not changed: We are not enforcing federal immigration laws; we enforce violations of Florida state statute and Key West City ordinances,” Lee said in a statement May 26.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen