Professor Martha Davis Represents International Human Rights Groups in Florida Sanctuary Cities Lawsuit


Martha Davis12.10.19 — Professor Martha Davis, co-director of the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE), has filed an amicus brief on behalf of Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights and LatinoJustice PRLDEF opposing a Florida law prohibiting sanctuary policies and requiring local police to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Davis argues that the law, SB 168, is unconstitutional and a threat to the state’s most vulnerable residents. 

“Our brief is focused on the international law perspective,” said Davis, an internationally recognized expert on human rights, women’s rights and social justice issues. “We believe this law violates US obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination [CERD]and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The ICE actions have been condemned by a number of international bodies and the idea that communities are not allowed to adopt sanctuary city policies runs afoul of national human rights obligations.”

The city of South Miami, which is represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state, seeking an injunction stopping further implementation of the law, which went into effect July 1, 2019. The plaintiffs assert that several sections of the law are unconstitutionally vague, pre-empted by federal law and violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. 

In their amicus brief, Davis and her co-counsel, JoAnn Kamuf Ward of the Columbia Human Rights Institute, note that United Nations “officials have criticized the current approach to immigration in the US, on the basis that it heightens the barriers that undocumented people face daily in exercising basic rights and meeting fundamental needs. These include ‘exploitation, abuse and wage theft,’ and refusal of access to utilities such as water, combined with the inability to seek assistance or protection for fear of deportation.”

Northeastern Law students Lucinda Gulino ’21 and MacKenzie Speer ’20 assisted in the research and preparation of the amicus brief.

The brief concludes that the law “… contravenes basic principles of justice and fundamental human rights. It ties the hands of local authorities seeking to promote and protect community safety, and significantly harms local communities, with disproportionately negative impacts on immigrant communities.” 

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