Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade may face showdown vote over mayor’s effort to shed ‘sanctuary’ label

Protesters erupt at downtown government center in Miami

Protesters gather at the Stephen P. Clark Center to protest against Miami-Dade Mayor’s Carlos Gimenez decision to effectively abandon the county’s stance as a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants.
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Protesters gather at the Stephen P. Clark Center to protest against Miami-Dade Mayor’s Carlos Gimenez decision to effectively abandon the county’s stance as a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants.

The fight over Miami-Dade’s “sanctuary” label may be just beginning.

Miami-Dade commissioners could face a vote on whether to back Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s decision to begin extending detentions of local offenders at the request of federal immigration authorities. The mayor’s Jan. 26 directive, designed to avoid a crackdown on so-called “sanctuary” communities by the White House, sparked local and national outrage and allegations that Gimenez was the first big-city executive to cave to President Donald Trump on immigration.

After an anti-Gimenez protest all but shut down County Hall to the public on Friday, another rally at the Stephen P. Clark Center’s downtown complex is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. One county commissioner is urging Miami-Dade to pursue a court challenge to the Jan. 25 executive order from Trump instructing Homeland Security to withhold federal funding from “sanctuary” communities.

In a letter to Gimenez Monday, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava urged Gimenez to consider joining with other large municipalities whose mayors have said they would take Trump to court rather than comply with his executive order on sanctuary communities.

I believe the mayor did the only thing he could in an emergency, which was economic defense.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman

“I am concerned as to how these new policies can be implemented fairly and without jeopardizing community safety,” Levine Cava, a Democrat, wrote Gimenez, a Republican. “It is generally recognized that detention of individuals on the basis of immigration status alone can suppress cooperation with local law enforcement, vital to protection of all residents.”

Although Miami-Dade has not declared itself a sanctuary for immigrants, the county earned the sanctuary label in a 2016 Justice Department report, and Gimenez said his Jan. 26 order was needed to protect more than $300 million in federal aid budgeted for Miami-Dade this year. Gimenez’s order to the county-run jail system essentially reversed a 2013 directive adopted by the County Commission to decline federal detainer requests that weren’t tied to a warrant unless Washington agreed in writing to pay for the extra detention time.

County officials say the requests will now amount to an extra 48 hours of detention for people who are flagged by immigration authorities while being held on local charges. After the 2013 commission vote, Gimenez presided over a change in county policy that had Miami-Dade cooperating with immigration authorities to pick up people from local jails.

County offices are officially nonpartisan, but Gimenez drew Trump’s ire in the presidential race when the Miami-Dade Republican announced his support for Hillary Clinton. After Trump’s upset win, one of Gimenez’s sons, a local lobbyist for Trump’s Doral resort, launched a lobbying firm aimed at courting the new administration. When news broke of Gimenez’s switch on federal detention requests, the president called the mayor’s move “Strong!” in a tweet.

While Levine Cava has questioned Gimenez’s decision, she has not yet explicitly said whether she opposes it. But she and the other 12 county commissioners may be asked to weigh in on the controversy in the coming days.

With Gimenez’s directive seemingly in conflict with the commission’s 2013 legislation, the detention action is raising legal questions about the mayor’s authority to alter board policy.

Sally Heyman, the county commissioner who sponsored the 2013 legislation to stop honoring unfunded detention requests, said Gimenez did the right thing in responding to Trump’s executive order — a presidential directive she said “almost borders on extortion.”

“I believe the mayor did the only thing he could in an emergency, which was economic defense,” said Heyman, a Democrat. “I think the policy of the president is wrong.”

County staffers are working on legislation designed to ratify the mayor’s Jan. 26 order to the county’s Corrections Department, and it may be placed on the commission’s Feb. 7 agenda, according to sources close to the process. Another option would be to treat Gimenez’s action as a budgetary change, since it involves Miami-Dade covering detention expenses it previously refused to assume. That could allow commission approval to come much more slowly during the extended budgetary process.

Michael Hernández, Gimenez’s spokesman, said the mayor acted within his authority as the county’s chief executive but wouldn’t oppose the board reviewing his decision: “Mayor Gimenez welcomes the commission reaffirming his order.”

While preliminary, the efforts to place the detainer issue before commissioners set up the possibility of a yet another public show of outrage over Trump’s immigration efforts and Miami-Dade’s attempts to appease the White House. On Monday, a coalition of labor unions, immigration-rights groups and other longtime foes of the Republican Party announced a 5 p.m. rally outside County Hall to protest Gimenez.

Esteban “Steve” Bovo, the Republican board chairman who has voiced support for Gimenez’s action, said he doesn’t want to bring the issue before the commission just for the sake of a high-profile debate.

“I don’t want to turn the chamber into a theater for people to come and basically protest Trump or chastise the mayor or board members,” Bovo said. “If there’s a board item that comes, we have our process. That process will be respected, obviously.”

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