Fearing a loss of millions of dollars for defying immigration authorities, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Thursday ordered county jails to comply with federal immigration detention requests — effectively gutting the county’s position as a “sanctuary” for immigrants in the country illegally.
Gimenez cited an executive order signed Wednesday by President Donald Trump that threatened to cut federal grants for any counties or cities that don’t cooperate fully with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Since 2013, Miami-Dade has refused to indefinitely detain inmates who are in the country illegally and wanted by ICE — not based on principle, but because the federal government doesn’t fully reimburse the county for the expense.
“In light of the provisions of the Executive Order, I direct you and your staff to honor all immigration detainer requests received from the Department of Homeland Security,” Gimenez wrote Daniel Junior, the interim director of the corrections and rehabilitation department, in a brief, three-paragraph memo.
Unlike cities like San Francisco, Miami-Dade never declared itself a “sanctuary” and has resisted the label ever since the Justice Department listed the county as one in a May 2016 report. Foreseeing Trump’s crackdown on “sanctuary” jurisdictions, the county asked the feds to review its status last year. A decision is still pending.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Gimenez, a Republican who attended Trump’s inauguration last week but said he voted for Hillary Clinton, said he made a financial decision. Last year, the county declined to hold some 100 inmates wanted by the feds. Keeping them in local jails would have cost about $52,000 — a relative drop in the bucket for a county with a total annual budget of $7 billion.
In contrast, the county’s 2017 budget shows it’s counting on receiving some $355 million in federal funds — money that subsidizes elderly services, beds for the homeless, police officers and other government expenses. It’s unclear how much of that comes from the sort of grants Trump has threatened to deny sanctuary municipalities.
“I want to make sure we don’t put in jeopardy the millions of funds we get from the federal government for a $52,000 issue,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be arresting more people. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be enforcing any immigration laws.”
Thursday evening, when this Miami Herald story moved online, Trump posted a response on Twitter:
“Miami-Dade Mayor drops sanctuary policy. Right decision. Strong!”
County Commissioner Sally Heyman, a Democrat who sponsored the 2013 measure that stopped Miami-Dade’s compliance with unreimbursed immigration detentions, said she was already working on legislation to undo the county’s position so Miami-Dade wouldn’t be targeted for federal cuts.
“It’s a terrible situation,” she said.
Heyman said she met with the feds in December in Washington, and earlier this month in Miami, to try to clarify Miami-Dade’s stance. Immigration authorities told her they now have enough facilities to house detainees, so they should be able to pick up inmates from local jails within 48 hours — instead of forcing the county to incur the expense for their prolonged detention.
When cops arrest someone wanted by immigration authorities, the feds ask local jails for the courtesy of holding the detainees long enough for them to pick them up — even if that means keeping the detainees behind bars for longer than the period required for the non-immigration crime they were arrested for.
Heyman said Gimenez’s strong-mayor position allows him to direct the corrections department in spite of the commission’s 2013 resolution.
Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, denounced Gimenez’s action, saying that it “flies in the face of Miami’s long history as a city of immigrants” and predicting it will “drive a wedge of distrust between law enforcement and our immigrant community.”
“At the very least, a warrant from a court, not merely a request from a federal official, is required to detain somebody in jail,” Simon said. “We will resist every attempt by our government to punish immigrants, regardless of their status.”
Trump has also ordered the reinstatement of a Bush-era program known as Secure Communities that deputizes local police to enforce immigration laws — a controversial approach that critics say deters victims and witnesses of crime from coming forward. Gimenez noted that while his Thursday memo doesn’t deal with that portion of Trump’s action, he can’t envision cops asking people for their papers.
“The federal government has to do its job,” he said. “We don’t ask them to write traffic tickets. We don’t want police asking people immigration status.”
Whether Miami-Dade would be affected by Trump’s executive action on sanctuary cities was already questionable, given that there’s no legal definition of what constitutes a “sanctuary.” The federal law cited in Trump’s order addresses jurisdictions that choose not to share information with the feds on immigration cases. No Florida municipality has explicitly set policy to obstruct federal immigration authorities; they’ve only objected to costly detentions or to detentions without deportation orders or judicial warrants.
The Democratic mayors of several big cities that defy federal immigration authorities as a matter of policy declared one after another Wednesday that they protect undocumented immigrants within their jurisdictions.
“I want to be clear: We’re going to stay a sanctuary city,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
“We’re going to defend all of our people, regardless of where they come from, regardless of their immigration status,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.