‘The Police Took Mommy’: How Reporting a Crime Nearly Resulted in Deportation for Florida Woman

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

When Gov. Rick Scott spoke before the Hispanic Leadership Network earlier this month, people periodically yelled out, often in Spanish-accented English, “Let’s get to work.”

During his talk to the group, Scott spoke about being an advocate for jobs, education and families. Not one word about immigration. Which makes a lot of sense, because immigration is not within the jurisdiction of the state.

And there was certainly no talk of instituting harsh Arizona-style immigration enforcement here in Florida — a promise he made during his campaign. In fact, he seemed to be, conveniently enough, backing away from that pledge at the time.

Not anymore.

If Scott’s words are anything more than rhetoric for the virulently anti-immigrant wing of the tea party, it would be a folly of the grandest proportions.

A recent report by the Center for American Progress examined five communities that had attempted local immigration-focused initiatives. And it found that in communities such as Farmers Branch, Tex. and Hazleton, Pa., not only were the laws found to be unconstitutional but they cost local governments up to $5 million to defend.

We may not have to look that far. Florida has Tavares.

In late February 2009, Rita Cote, a mother of four, called police in that Central Florida town because her sister was allegedly attacked by her boyfriend. But when police showed up, rather than focus on the actual crime, they turned on Cote, who doesn’t speak English.

Tavares is located in Lake County. And the Lake County sheriff, appropriately named Gary Borders, had campaigned on the promise that he would deport illegal immigrants.

The police demanded to see Cote’s papers, and when she only offered a bank identification card, they arrested her.

The man who had allegedly left marks and bruises on her sister was never even picked up.

As bad as that might be, it gets worse. She was held for eight days without being able to contact family. She was transferred to immigration authorities in Broward County, in South Florida, hours away from her family, before finally being released. By the way, her children and husband are all American citizens — as long as the 14th Amendment stands. In fact, her husband is an Iraq War veteran.

After two years of frustration, including a police investigation that found — surprise — the lawmen involved had done nothing wrong, Cotes and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Borders.

The ACLU’s lawsuit claims that Cote is not the exception: From March 2007 to March 2009, there were more than 230 people detained in Lake County for alleged immigration violations. That in a county with a population of less than 300,000.

Understand that in 2009, there were only 297 cases of domestic violence-aggravated assault and fewer than 1,500 cases of domestic violence-simple assault in the county. Yet, faced with a case of at least simple assault, police instead arrested a mother of four and wife of a Iraq War vet who called police in an attempt to protect her sister.

Now, I’m sure some of you may not like the ACLU. Others will believe that Cote, having entered the country illegally as a child, shouldn’t have any right to take anyone to court.

Even if you do, we can all probably agree on one thing: If Scott and the state legislature push through Arizona-style immigration enforcement that promotes a “papers, please” approach, we’re going to see a lot more cases like this. Time, money and energy better spent on the vital issues Scott spoke about earlier this month.

“So every day I’m in office I’m going to focus on how we get more jobs,” Scott said near the end of his speech to the Hispanic Leadership Network. “I’m going to focus on jobs. I’m going to focus on education. And I’ll focus on making sure the laws that we pass in this state promote families.”

That’d be just fine with Rita Cote and her husband, Robert.

“‘He was hysterical,” Robert said, remembering his 7-year-old son’s call. “ ‘Daddy, daddy, they took mommy!’ ‘Who took mommy?’ ‘The police took mommy!’ ”

Promote families, governor, not rhetoric.

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7 Responses to “‘The Police Took Mommy’: How Reporting a Crime Nearly Resulted in Deportation for Florida Woman”

  1. Dora D says:

    Well honey, it is sad for you but mommy is a criminal and she has broken the law. If a person comes across the border they are subject to facing time in jail. Every country has laws and if we do not follow them we will turn into the kind of country where your mommy came from.
    I would ask her WHY she cares so little for you that she would put you through this. I feel sorry for you little child and the fact that you were born to a criminal parent. God Bless You.

  2. xxodettexx says:

    @dora d: you are OBVIOUSLY simple and ignorant

    i have a friend who was brought here when she was a child, her parents did NOTHING to fix her illegal status while she was a child and when she went to graduate high school, found herself in immigration limbo HELL… more than 10 years later and immigration officials have managed to “lose” about 2k dollars worth of money she sent in to pay for her paperwork, have “lost” her paperwork or conveniently never send her any information on ANYTHING… yes, to the simple-minded its as easy as filling out a form and paying a small fee, but in reality, its much more complicated than that

    what i feel bad for is that this little girl will now grow up with the KNOWLEDGE that if she is ever the victim of domestic abuse, she better not call the cops bc cops = enemies that cause emotional distress… THAT IS WHAT I FEEL BAD FOR

    that and the fact that there are unempathic TOOLS like you alive, sucking up oxygen

    FOR THE RECORD: i am puerto rican [aka an american citizen at birth] and want comprehensive immigration reform… do i want to let in all the criminals and terrorists? FAR FROM IT considering i am an army brat with a father and various uncles fighting terrorists. no, i want my wonderful country to help itself by helping its weakest links [children, health care, and immigration]… until we as country recognize that the saying “you are only as strong as your weakest link” is highly accurate, we will continue to view this immigration problem as a “they are criminals” or “they be taking my jobs” or “go back to where you came” [which when you THINK about it, often means destitute situations which is why immigrants tend to risk "all" to get here in the first place]

    i mean, really

  3. Big Deal says:

    Boo Hoo, another illegal sob story, like people care…NOT! Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the deportation! And this idiot definitely needs a new boyfriend who doesn’t beat people. Deport all illegals and their anchor babies.

  4. Dora, very eloquent comment and nice writing. However, there are some things you either left out, or chose to ignore.

    As you point out, “Every country has laws.” Very true. And I would argue that it is MOST important that the people who enforce those laws follow them. From all the accounts I’ve read, that did not happen here.

    It matters not if you or the Tavares police believe Rita Cote should be deported. That’s something that an immigration judge will decide. And she certainly should not be subject to illegal detention in the meantime. That makes us worse than “where your mommy came from.”

    We should be better than that.

    You see, this issue is more complicated than the over-simplified rhetoric that’s usually associated with it. A point that xxodettexx’s comment so clearly illustrates. Kneejerk reactions to problems such as illegal immigration do nothing except damage our own country. If Rita Cote saw a possible terrorist engaged in suspicious activity, or saw you being attacked and knocked unconscious, wouldn’t you want her to call police? What do you think the chances are of her EVER calling again?

    Thanks for commenting. It’s only by talking about these things that we can truly move forward and find solutions.

  5. Lynn Moscoso says:

    Mr. de la Cruz,

    Thank you for writing this and for your most eloquent style with “Dora”. It’s replies like yours that keep things civil and move us forward, not backward. Solutions should be our focus.

    It would be like me saying, “it wasn’t an illegal immigrant who assaulted my child, it was a U.S. Citizen who did so, and therefore he (the crimial) should be deported to some hell-hole where he will suffer”. At the end, it is about my personal interest. In my case, my U.S. Citizen child.

    Obviously, justice serves those whom serve themselves. Everyone has a way of seeing things depending on their situation. But I thought your example of terrorism was right on point. For how much some people may dislike immigrants, legals and illegals, I bet they would change their minds given a moment in which they had a personal interest in them being around.

    These “Doras” can’t come up with anything new anymore. They stick to referring to what was done in the past and how illegal immigrants are technically breaking the law, which they are, we get it. But how convenient is it NOT to look back even further, to the times in which our great country violated other socities. This makes the “Doras” and the likes’ claims hypocritical.

    The price tag on the defense of these anti-immigration initiatives should be made “illegal”. In addition, there must be other costs associated with law enforcement and social services that come into play when a parent is incarcerated.

    They are using local tax money for these costs from taxpayers who may not be in agreement with these anti-immigrant initiatives. Doesn’t make any sense. If in a parallel world taxpayers were given a choice to use local government taxes to pay for legalizing their fellow countrymen versus funding initiatives to kick them out of the country, there might not be any more problems with illegals to fight. What a problem that might create for people who have nothing better to do with their time than to create ficticious assumptions about illegals.

  6. Johana2 says:

    The ONLY WAY to prevent situations like this, is to ENFORCE the border and turn off the magnets for illegal immigration by mandating E-Verify at the workplace, ending sanctuary policies, and eliminating all benefits for illegal aliens, for example.

    Of course, open-border groups like La Raza are opposed to any of these efforts, which means they are responsible for these situations. Maybe FCIR can expose the so-called “pro-immigrant” groups for what they really are: profiteers who make millions for the benefit of Big Business.

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