Fabiola Santiago

Memo to Keys police: Undocumented immigrants are human beings too.

The Honduran immigrant was riding his bicycle to work in Key West when he was struck by a local woman driving a pickup truck.

Marcos Antonio Huete, 31, was lying on the sidewalk, injured, when a Monroe County Sheriff’s sergeant arrived on that sunny April 27, when zealotry would change forever the lives of Huete and his family in two countries.

“You illegal? Are you a legal citizen or no? Speak English? You got ID? Passport, visa, or what?” Sgt. David Lariz barks at the injured man, a police body camera capturing the interaction.

Instead of offering assistance right away, the first thing this police officer who took an oath to serve and protect did at an accident scene was to harass an injured victim.

Judging by this and another Lariz encounter captured on video May 23, it looks like the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office has taken on federal duties, becoming the far-reaching arm of the Department of Homeland Security in the Florida Keys.

In the second case, Nelson Duarte, a 54-year-old Argentine cook who has been living in this country for 16 years, was on his way to work at a Key West restaurant when Lariz stopped him on Truman Avenue for blocking an intersection at a light change.

When Lariz asked for a driver’s license, Duarte produced an international driving permit and Argentinean identification; Lariz says in his report of the incident that he couldn’t tell what it was. But he issued Duarte a traffic citation and a criminal citation for driving without a Florida license, turned his car over to a towing company — and by his own admission in the report, called the Border Patrol, which picked up Duarte.

Could it be that a police sergeant has taken it upon himself to persecute undocumented immigrants? And is there an entire department supporting his eagerness to be the helping hands of President Donald Trump’s crackdown on the undocumented?

Hard to tell, but in one month, two undocumented immigrants on their way to work — and with no criminal record other than their illegal entry, a misdemeanor — have ended up in ICE custody, are in detention, and on their way to deportation as a direct result of Lariz’s actions. Collaboration with the federal government on immigration matters doesn’t get clearer than that.

Lone operator or departmental policy, either way, it’s hasta la vista to the laid-back, fun-loving Margaritaville spirit of the Keys and hello to southernmost hub of immigration law enforcement. There’s nothing a Donald Trump win can’t ruin. For immigrants — backbone workers of restaurants, bars and hotels in the Keys — it’s a brand new day. Be wary; lie low. The place is turning into unfriendly territory.

I reached out to Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay and spokeswoman Becky Herrin — but they declined to discuss the issue. Herrin would only confirm that Lariz was the deputy from their agency at the Huete and Duarte scenes and that he made those comments I quoted.

Herrin denies that Monroe police called the Border Patrol or ICE on the Huete case. The Florida Highway Patrol investigated the crash and blamed the accident on Huete. But Lariz, who after questioning Huete’s status got around to asking the man if he needed an ambulance, was on the scene. Huete’s family told Univision that police followed them to the hospital, and that after Huete was treated for his injuries and released on crutches, he was asked to return to the accident scene. The Border Patrol was there to detain Huete, who awaits deportation at the Krome Avenue detention center.

There was no disciplinary action taken against Lariz for not assisting the victim of an accident first and asking questions later, Herrin said.

"Neither the Sheriff nor I will be talking to you about this topic," she wrote me in an email.

And that’s real life beyond the facade of sun and fun.

If the Keys community doesn’t demand more humane conduct from their officers, perhaps the rest of us should.

What’s happened to these two hardworking men helping their families abroad and now separated from loved ones in the United States is a consequence of the rotting soul of a sector of America — from the White House to the Keys, with hate and injustice for all.  

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