Haitian national James Lacroix pleaded guilty Tuesday to the minor crime of driving with a suspended license, ending his criminal case after more than seven weeks spent behind bars.
But Lacroix didn’t walk out of a Miami-Dade jail.
Instead, jailers kept him in custody under the county’s controversial decision to detain immigrants slated for deportation by federal authorities, even if their sentences have been finished. Lacroix has been ordered deported to Haiti, not for any violent crimes, but apparently because of a long history of driving without a valid license
In the latest ripple effect from the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, a Miami-Dade judge has set a Thursday hearing to explore the legal authority the county jail has for keeping Lacroix behind bars.
It will be the first legal challenge to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s much-derided decision to begin cooperating with federal agents who have been empowered under President Donald Trump to dramatically step up deportations — actions that have generated protests across the nation, including in Miami-Dade, where Gimenez in January cited the threat of losing federal funding as a reason to cooperate with immigration agents.
“We don’t believe the federal government has the right to tell the state of Florida to spend money to keep someone jailed, to spend money to enforce their unconstitutional policies,” Lacroix’s lawyers, Philip Reizenstein and Kristen Kawass, said in a statement.
The Miami-Dade Corrections department declined to comment.
Lacroix remained at the Miami-Dade County Jail on Tuesday evening.
Federal agents are tasked with picking him up within 48 hours. A spokesman for the Miami office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Lacroix was not in its custody as of Tuesday evening.
Even if Lacroix is turned over to the feds before Thursday’s hearing, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch said he will still consider the issue.
“Detention of this kind is ‘capable of repetition’ — indeed it occurs on a frequent, perhaps an increasingly frequent, basis,” Hirsch wrote in an order. “Evaluation of the lawfulness of such detention is not rendered moot by the transfer of a given detainee to the actual physical custody of ICE.”