ACLU Client Testifies Before International Human Rights Tribunal

March 28, 2011 12:00 am

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Florida Husband Recounts Wife’s Illegal Arrest And Detention By Local Police Conducting Immigration Enforcement

ACLU national, (202) 675-2312;
ACLU of Florida, (786) 363-2737;

WASHINGTON – At a hearing today before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida client Robert Cote testified about his wife Rita Cote’s unlawful detention by local law enforcement who demanded proof of her citizenship after she assisted a victim of domestic violence to report an assault to police.

According to Robert Cote’s testimony, “Rita had not committed any crime and was not suspected of any crime, yet the officers treated her like a criminal because she is Latina and speaks with a Spanish accent… Rita has been home for two years but our nightmare is continuing. She could not be here today because all of her travel must be approved by the Department of Homeland Security, which is a difficult process that requires ten days notice… DHS can revoke her status at any time. So now whenever a car we don’t recognize pulls into our driveway, we are in fear that someone has come to take away Rita in handcuffs again.”

In February 2009, Robert Cote’s wife, Rita Cote, was translating for her sister who was reporting a domestic assault to police. Officers responding to the call demanded to see Rita Cote’s passport and would not settle for a photo identification issued by a financial institution, even though she was not, and has never been, suspected of any crime. As a result, she spent seven days in Lake County Detention Center after being arrested without a warrant, without being charged and without ever seeing a judge. After the ACLU of Florida challenged her illegal arrest and detention in federal court, the county jail transferred Rita Cote to the custody of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which detained her in Broward County, where she was held far from Robert Cote, a U.S. citizen and Iraq war veteran, and her three children for an additional week. The ACLU of Florida sued both the Lake County Sheriff and the city of Tavares on Rita Cote’s behalf earlier this year.

“Rita Cote’s effort to help the police and protect her sister was repaid with more than two weeks in jail cells separated from her husband and young children, without charge or process,” said Glenn Katon, ACLU of Florida senior staff attorney representing Rita Cote. “This case is a clear example of the problems inherent in local police enforcing immigration laws. Arresting and detaining someone without cause or charge is illegal and goes against American ideals of justice. When immigrant communities cannot go to law enforcement for help without the threat of detention and deportation looming overhead, all our communities are less safe.”

In July 2009, the ACLU of Florida notified all Florida law enforcement agencies of the lack of legal basis for and potential “significant liability” associated with arrest and detention actions similar to those in the Cote case. Though Rita Cote was brought to this country as a minor and is an undocumented mother of four, there is no legal authority for Florida local law enforcement officials to detain anyone in this situation. Rita Cote is now working with an immigration attorney to resolve her legal status.

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