By Aisha Powell
WEST PALM BEACH, Fl- After a five-month battle, West Palm Beach, Florida, has settled a lawsuit with the federal government complying to the federal immigration policy, announced West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio. In March of 2017, the Floridian city’s commission declared it was a “welcoming city,” which many inferred to mean a sanctuary city.
According to a CNN article from January 2017, the term “sanctuary city” is “a broad term applied to jurisdictions that have policies in place designed to limit cooperation with or involvement in federal immigration enforcement actions. Cities, counties, and some states have a range of informal policies, as well as actual laws that qualify as ‘sanctuary’ positions.” These policies do “not [cooperate] with federal law enforcement on immigration policies.”
The 2010 Census data revealed that 1 in 4 residents in Palm Beach County are foreign born, mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean. Today, over 100,000 residents in West Palm Beach are Haitians according to City-Data, a website that gathers demographics from private and government entities to create profiles on US cities.
Bito David is an author and a communication specialist for Palm Beach County School District. He has been a permanent resident of the United States for over 20 years—and he is a Haitian citizen. After hearing about the settlement, he is now scared for his own safety:
“Things have changed and now people have more of a reason to be afraid,” he said. “People don’t venture like they use to, they stay home.”
The panic, however, is not a new feeling in the community. David says that Haitians have been cautious even before Mayor Muoio made the announcement. That’s because of the end of Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
TPS was given to Haitians one day after the 2010 earthquake, allowing them to legally reside in the US while their country recovered. Last November, after extending the program for seven years, the Department of Homeland Security announced the end of TPS in July of 2019. Over 300 Haitians in West Palm Beach marched to protest the decision shortly after.
David says in the past year, he has seen tens of kids miss school. “When you go to find out the reason they don’t show up, it’s an immigration issue,” he said.
Kathy Burstein, who works in the communication department of Palm Beach County school district, says that the school doesn’t request or require legal documentation from any of their students—and yet, some parents still show apprehension sending their kids to school.
David says these immigrant parents don’t want their kids to be snatched in the street by US Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). ICE can legally detain anyone who cannot prove they are a legal resident upon request or anyone who they perceive presents a danger to national security or public safety. ICE can only make arrests if they have an arrest warrant or proof of alien status, not to mention that they must be on public property or have permission to enter private areas.
In the same month TPS ended, the US Justice Department threatened to subpoena municipalities whose local officials and police force withheld the immigration status of undocumented individuals. In an effort to shut down sanctuary cities and states, 23 warning letters were sent out—one was for West Palm Beach. In response, the town filed a lawsuit back, stating that its immigration-related policies did abide with the federal law. However, they did not require officials to collect immigration statuses.
Section 1373 of the federal statute states that the Department of Homeland Security should receive all information they might need to detain aliens who commit crimes—to which sanctuary cities can make local jurisdictions to withhold that information.
Not only did West Palm Beach drop their lawsuit and settle, they also sent a memo stating that their local law does not interfere with federal laws.
Immigration attorney and former NYC prosecutor S. Michael Musa-Obregon thinks that the West Palm Beach settlement can set a negative precedent for municipalities with less agency.
“When a prominent town like West Palm Beach, which has resources, decides it is going to settle the lawsuit and not fight it,” he said, “it will likely have a domino effect on other small localities.”
Last year, the Miami-Dade County Commission announced they would hold undocumented individuals in jail for the federal government. Miami-Dade turned over 436 immigrants to ICE, according to the county release. North Miami and Golden Glades, two towns in Miami-Dade, have the highest concentration of Haitians in America at just over 25% of their population.
Musa-Obregon said if taken to trial, the case would go a trial-level court, then to an appellate court, and then, eventually, to the Supreme Court, creating a national discussion.
The main implication, however, according to Musa-Obregon, is to have more cooperation from the community to immigration officers. In 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that federal funding for local cities would be cut off if cities had laws against immigration agents entering detention facilities.
James Leger, a resident of West Palm Beach and host of Radio Vision Nouvelle, said that a majority of the Haitian community is unaware of the settlement because he has not spoken about it on his radio show yet.
Radio Vision Nouvelle gets more than 30,000 listeners on any day, he said. A majority of listeners are Haitian. He relays culture, political, or social issues to the community who may not have heard about it elsewhere.
“I have to explain it to them what that means for them to really understand it,” he said.
One way he can explain it, he said, is if a police pulls someone over and they go to jail, the sheriff department can alert ICE after their release; that they potentially had an illegal immigrant. His April 9 show was dedicated to explaining the policy, but he said fear in the communities will only get worse.