Two high-profile, Bay Area cases are igniting a new immigration debate.
Last month, a Lake Wales police officer suffered cuts, bruises and serious bite marks in an attack at the hands of a man who was in the country illegally.
Just weeks before that, a motorcyclist was run off the road in a violent road rage hit and run. Investigators eventually caught up with the accused driver who turned out to be in the country illegally, as well.
In the Lake Wales case, Deputy Chief Troy Shulze says his officers discovered almost immediately that Marcelino Jimenez-Cruz was an undocumented immigrant and contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials right away.
“During the book-in process, he told our investigators that he was not a legal citizen,” Schulze said.
The effort to keep a man like the accused cop attacker, Jimenez-Cruz locked up and eventually kicked out of the country is nothing new, but the methods have faced challenges.
“Well, the federal courts across the United States started ruling against us,” explained Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Judd says in the past county jails would hold undocumented offenders like Jimenez-Cruz or the accused Sarasota road-rager Magdiel Medrano Bonilla beyond their scheduled release to give ICE agents a chance to take them into federal custody, but the court challenges were unrelenting.
Opponents called the practice unconstitutional.
So early this year, 17 Florida sheriffs entered into what’s called a Basic Ordering Agreement with immigration officials. It serves as a contract, of sorts, allowing an extra 48-hour local hold on undocumented immigrants. The participating sheriffs hope the new agreement will withstand any future legal challenges.
“If at the end of that 48 hours ICE hasn’t come to take possession of them, we still have to turn them loose,” Judd said.
Pamela Gomez works with the Florida Immigrant Coalition which is a statewide network working for the equal and fair treatment of immigrant communities. She says the new Basic Ordering Agreement is still a violation of immigrants’ rights to due process. She argues it will have a chilling effect in the community.
“What we’re seeing is because people are afraid, right, who are undocumented, to even call the cops when they see something horrible happen,” Gomez said.
But local law enforcement agencies argue horrible things are already happening at the hands of people who need to be off the streets.
“I feel if people are not lawfully here in the United States, and they’re committing violent felonies, victimizing their communities and the people who live in those communities it’s time for them to go,” said Schulze.