A rally drew hundreds of people to Miami-Dade’s government headquarters Tuesday as leaders demanded the county defy President Donald Trump and refuse to extend local jail time for immigrants wanted by federal authorities.
It was the second large protest against Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s recent order to comply with federal requests to extend county detentions of people held on local charges who are also wanted on immigration violations. Gimenez said Miami-Dade had to change its previous policy of declining the requests after Trump ordered federal funding stripped from local governments who offer “sanctuary” to immigration violators.
“He insists we’re not a sanctuary city,” Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said of Gimenez during her speech. “We are a sanctuary city. We should be a sanctuary city.”
The event, organized by labor groups and other activist organizations opposed to Republicans and Trump, extended Miami-Dade’s time on the front lines of a national debate over the new president’s immigration policies. On the heels of Gimenez’s local order last week, Trump tweeted his approval, calling the decision “Strong!”
Trump’s endorsement only further enraged Gimenez’s local critics, who see the Cuban-born Republican kowtowing to a president who was once a golfing companion and who employed one of Gimenez’s sons as a lobbyist for the former real estate mogul’s Doral resort.
“To have a mayor be the first to side with Trump is just unimaginable,” said Deborah Dion, a North Miami resident and political director of Hollywood’s Progress for All, an activist group. “Miami-Dade is the melting pot of this country.”
Late Tuesday, Gimenez’s spokesman Michael Hernández said county police and building managers disputed a reporter’s estimate that about 400 people attended the rally. County officials put the crowd size at about 100 people, Hernández said.
For all the criticism hurdled from the left at the County Hall protest, Rosen Gonzalez was the only elected Democrat spotted at the event. And while one Democrat on the officially nonpartisan commission, Jean Monestime, issued a critical statement about Gimenez’s Jan. 26 order, no commissioner has revealed any legislation attempting to overturn the mayor’s order to county jails that federal detention requests on immigration violations (known as “detainers”) be honored.
Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava posted a message on a supporter’s Facebook page over the weekend that “I’ll be calling for reinstatement of the County Commission policy of no detainers.” Asked for clarification Tuesday, Levine Cava said she wanted commission policy followed. “Any other outcome requires Commission action,” she said.
A 2013 resolution adopted by the 13-member County Commission instructed Gimenez not to honor the detention requests unless Washington paid for the added jail time. Since Washington refused to do that under the Obama administration, the rules meant Miami-Dade always declined the detainer requests.
While Levine Cava hinted at challenging Gimenez’s authority, the commission has no plans to review the mayor’s actions. An agenda released after the protest for next Tuesday’s commission meeting, the first since Gimenez’s Jan. 26 directive, includes no items addressing detainer policy.
Gimenez aides say the new policy drops the 2013 reimbursement requirement, allowing Miami-Dade’s jails to extend detention times at the request of immigration authorities. The county says the extended stays in local jails can only last two days, and would only impact someone wanted by immigration who is first picked up on an unrelated local charge.
Under the old policy, Miami-Dade would cooperate with immigration authorities wanting a suspect who was in county custody but would not keep the person longer than was required under the local charges.
When people won’t speak up because they don’t feel safe, none of us are safe.
Dotie Joseph, a former head of the Haitian Lawyers Association
The mayor argued that the change amounted to a tweak of the commission’s original 2013 resolution, and merely accelerated the county’s effort to comply with immigration authorities after it was labeled a “sanctuary” community last year by the Obama Justice Department. While some big-city mayors revel in the “sanctuary” label, Gimenez said Miami-Dade has never considered itself an enclave for immigration violators.
Critics of Trump’s crackdown on “sanctuary” communities argue that the policy merely discourages undocumented residents from cooperating with police out of fear they’ll be deported. With local jails helping with federal immigration apprehensions, advocates for immigrant rights say undocumented residents will be less likely to report crimes, serve as witnesses or turn in spouses or partners who are abusing them.
“For community policing to be successful, they have to have the trust of the community,” said Dotie Joseph, a former head of the Haitian Lawyers Association and current vice-chair of Miami-Dade’s Democratic Party. “When people won’t speak up because they don’t feel safe, none of us are safe.”
Gimenez was not in his 29th Floor office during the afternoon protest, but was conducting media interviews elsewhere in the county, a spokesman said. Protesters caught up with him throughout the day. During a public hearing with state lawmakers, Gimenez was photographed alongside Commission Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo as two protesters held up signs behind them that read: “Gimenez You Are An Immigrant Too” and “Protect Immigrant Families.”
Also on Tuesday, protesters targeted the Doral office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and urged him to take a stand against Trump.
With posters that read “Remove the POTUS,” about two dozen protesters chanted “Stop Trump’s Swamp’s Cabinet,” as cars honked along Northwest 36th Street.
“To see a person of such little intellect in a leadership role and failing badly makes me sick; it makes us all fail,” said Palmetto Bay’s John Taylor, 73. “I am asking that Rubio make moves to remove [Trump]. Somebody has to step up and save this nation, save this democracy.”
Miami Herald staff writer Monique O. Madan contributed to this report.