For weeks after his state probation case ended, Peter Brown remained locked in a county jail in Florida, as county officials waited for immigration authorities to deport him to Jamaica—a country Brown had never lived in, and where he knew no one. Brown tried everything: He told country officials, over and over, that he was United States citizen; his friends and a coworker called the jail to say the same. He filed multiple written grievances, and he offered to produce his birth certificate.
Nothing worked—until, soon before his deportation date, a friend managed to send a copy of Brown's birth certificate to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. The birth certificate repeated what the county's own jail file already showed: that Brown was born in Philadelphia.
Now, multiple advocacy organizations have filed a lawsuit on Brown's behalf, alleging that Sheriff Richard Ramsay violated Brown's Fourth Amendment rights by illegally detaining him in the Monroe County jail. At the center of the case is a controversial legal practice wherein local police, like Ramsay, detain people in local jails for ICE. As part of the arrangement between ICE and local law enforcement in Florida (codified in what's called a "Basic Ordering Agreement"), the federal agency pays sheriffs $50 to continue detaining someone after their criminal case has ended, so that ICE agents can secure the person for deportation.
"ICE has tried to turn local law enforcement agencies into its force multipliers for years," Mary Bauer, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement. "Basic Ordering Agreements are ICE's latest attempt to turn county sheriffs into de facto immigration agents, with the promise that the sheriffs can't be sued when they violate people's constitutional rights."
Ramsay's legal team will likely argue that the BOA his department signed with ICE justified its detention of Brown. Monroe County is among 17 Florida counties that utilize such agreements. The Monroe County Sheriff's Department did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
The SPLC is joining with the national American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU's Florida chapter to represent Brown in U.S. district court. Brown's legal team will argue that the BOA was an insufficient reason to detain a U.S. citizen without criminal charges against him.
"It's shocking and not right that somebody can lose their human rights and have all dignity stripped away simply because someone delivers a piece of paper or signs a form," Brown said in a statement.