Miami-Dade County

Under Trump crackdown, 1,000-plus ‘sanctuary’ inmates could be detained in Miami-Dade

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, left, during an August appearance on “This Week in South Florida” with co-host Michael Putney in Channel 10’s WPLG studios in Hollywood on Sunday, August 14, 2016.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez, left, during an August appearance on “This Week in South Florida” with co-host Michael Putney in Channel 10’s WPLG studios in Hollywood on Sunday, August 14, 2016.

After declining them for three years, Miami-Dade now is on track to honor more than 1,000 detention requests from immigration authorities seeking custody of local inmates, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Sunday.

Gimenez’s estimate was based on the 27 two-day detention requests Miami-Dade has processed since his Jan. 26 order directing county jails to honor them on the heels of President Donald Trump demanding a crackdown on “sanctuary” communities not cooperating with immigration authorities.

When Gimenez announced the controversial order, his administration downplayed the effects by pointing to the fewer than 200 requests immigration officers sent Miami-Dade in 2016. On Sunday, Gimenez conceded the first wave of requests after he reversed a 2013 County Commission policy against them suggests 2017 will see far more “detainers” processed.

“If you take 27 out say 52 weeks, it’s probably around 1,500, [or] 1,300 requests,” Gimenez said on WPLG’s “This Week in South Florida.” Gimenez said the number will likely come in lower than the more than 2,000 requests Miami-Dade saw in 2012, before the County Commission voted to stop honoring “detainers” unless immigration authorities sought serious offenders and agreed in advance to pay for the extra 48 hours of local jail time.

“Actually, that number is going back to what it used to be before that resolution was passed,” Gimenez said.

Also Sunday, Miami-Dade released a list of the 16 people being held in county jails who are subject to the immigration detention requests the county started honoring on Jan. 26. All but one are repeat offenders, according to the list. Local charges that subjected them to the detainer requests range from first-degree murder to drunken disorderly conduct.

Gimenez was the first to reveal some of the charges during his live “This Week” interview, and used the offenses to try to distinguish the people subject to the detainers from Miami-Dade’s larger population of residents who entered the country illegally.

“There’s a petty theft. There’s a disorderly intoxication, resisting without violence. There’s a murder in the first degree. Actually, we believe that’s a double murder in the first degree,” Gimenez said, reading from his cellphone. “There’s domestic violence. Aggravated assault. Illegal drug trafficking. Organized fraud. Resisting without violence.

“I’m an immigrant,” the Cuban-born mayor said. “I believe the vast majority of undocumented immigrants in our county are law-abiding citizens who have never had a run-in with Miami-Dade police.”

Cheryl Little, executive director of Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami, said Gimenez’s decision helped fuel widespread fear over an immigration crackdown by the Trump White House.

“Since the election, our phones have been ringing off the hook from people afraid they’re about to be rounded up and deported,” Little said. “The mayor’s decision sent shockwaves throughout our community. It’s going to make our community less safe because immigrants are going to be increasingly fearful reporting crimes to the police.”

Gimenez’s estimates on future detention requests are only based on eight days worth of data, and the coming weeks will give a much better idea of the trend for 2017. But they also help frame the consequences of his Jan. 26 order on the heels of county commissioners calling a rare special meeting Feb. 17 to review the mayor’s actions. Before the County Commission changed its detention policy in late 2013, Miami-Dade said it received 2,500 detainer requests in 2012 and spent about $670,000 complying with them. The 2013 commission vote to require federal reimbursement effectively banned county jails from honoring the requests, since Washington consistently refused to pay the full tab for local jail time.

A day before the mayor’s Jan. 26 order, Trump issued his own directive to strip federal funds from any municipality deemed a “sanctuary jurisdiction” by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Gimenez said Sunday he was concerned Miami-Dade would quickly land on a sanctuary list. That could endanger millions of current federal dollars, he said, as well as the transportation grants the mayor wants for the $6 billion “SMART” expansion plan for transit.

“When President Trump put out his order, I thought, you know, I think this gentleman is serious,” Gimenez said. “And by the way, we have $350 million in federal funding that we receive every year. And not only that, we are going to try and get hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars for our transit system. Which is completely discretionary federal money.”

Gimenez and the 2013 resolution’s original sponsor, Commissioner Sally Heyman, have been lobbying federal officials to spare Miami-Dade the “sanctuary” label since last year, when the county was included on a list of sanctuary communities by the Justice Department under President Barack Obama. But while Gimenez has previously argued Miami-Dade’s old policy on the detainer requests did not rise to “sanctuary” status, his Jan. 26 order eliminated the policy in question.

The detention requests ask local jails to hold someone for an extra two days so that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers can get to them before they’re freed from local custody. The 48-hour requests only apply to people already under detention on local charges.

“It’s kind of like having a sentence, and then we add 48 hours on top of that,” said Daniel Junior, interim head of Miami-Dade’s Corrections and Rehabilitation Department. “Once they satisfy their local charges, the 48 hours kicks in. Instead of walking out the door, we say: ‘Oh, wait a minute. We’re holding you for 48 hours because ICE is interested in you.”

Before the mayor’s Jan. 26 order, Miami-Dade would notify ICE if someone sought on possible immigration violations was brought into local custody, but would not extend local jail stays to give federal officers more time to apprehend them, Junior said.

Gimenez’s order sparked outrage from local immigrant activists, unions and other groups lining up to oppose Trump’s policies. A pair of County Hall protests drew hundreds of people, and Gimenez addressed state lawmakers last week with two protesters holding pro-immigrant signs behind him.

On Sunday, Gimenez criticized one of those protesters, Tomas Kennedy, for helping spread false information about immigration checkpoints in Miami last week. On Wednesday, Kennedy, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, tweeted that ICE had checkpoints on Biscayne Boulevard and 73rd Street in Miami, and included a photo of a caravan of Homeland Security buses. Those warnings were widely circulated that day, but false.

“Last week we had an individual by the name of Tomas Kennedy that tweeted out that there were ICE buses on Miami Beach and that ICE was there rounding up illegal immigrants,” Gimenez said unprompted on Channel 10. “Completely false. I don’t know what the reason was, but I’ll tell you what. It caused a panic in my community, in our community. I’m not going to put up with it. I don’t think anyone should put up with this kind of nonsense.”

On Sunday, Kennedy said he was surprised that Gimenez would single him out for public criticism after what the union organizer described as a “collegial” conversation after Kennedy’s silent protest of the mayor’s remarks at Florida International University before state lawmakers. Kennedy stood directly behind Gimenez and held a sign that read: “Protect Immigrant Families.”

As for his Wednesday post, Kennedy said he and other advocates for undocumented immigrants started receiving a flood of warnings about checkpoints in Miami. He said he decided to post something to spread the word to people who followed him on social media in case the reports were true. “The worst that can happen to them is they would have a very anxious day,” Kennedy said.