A legal battle has erupted over the growing colony of sex offenders forced to live under Miami’s Julia Tuttle Causeway, the Miami Herald reports. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Miami-Dade County, arguing that the state’s rule that sex offenders must live at least 1,000 feet from where children congregate supersedes the county’s stricter 2,500-foot ordinance. The city of Miami prepared to sue the state for placing the offenders — whose legal addresses are under the causeway — too close to a barrier island that it considers a park. The ACLU and the city say they want to clean up the shantytown that is spilling out from under the bridge, and find those living there a respectable and safe place to live. Under the 2,500-foot law, convicted sex offenders have no other place to live.
The vagrants — many of them homeless felons — live in shacks in a no-man’s land that has generated national debate over the consequences of residency laws for sex offenders. The local laws aim to drive out the colony, which has grown to as many as 140 people and has earned Miami unflattering attention for two years. The ACLU’s lawsuit argues that the county ordinance is a threat to public safety because it forces sex offenders into homelessness, makes them abscond and impedes law enforcement from keeping track of them.