Miami-Dade County

ACLU: Gimenez ‘duped’ by Trump on immigration detentions

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez during a press conference at the county’s Water and Sewer Department on January 7, 2016.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez during a press conference at the county’s Water and Sewer Department on January 7, 2016. DOUGLAS HANKS

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez misread the law and the risk of losing federal aid when he tried to appease President Donald Trump by ordering local jails to detain inmates sought by immigration agents, a coalition of liberal advocacy groups wrote in a letter to county commissioners on Monday.

“The County should not give in to President Trump’s bluster,” read the 10-page letter signed by local leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union, Service Employees International Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups. “Although Mayor Gimenez and others may have been misled to believe otherwise, Miami-Dade does not risk the loss of any federal funding…”

About 400 people rallied in January 2017 at Miami-Dade’s government headquarters as leaders demanded the county defy President Donald Trump and refuse to extend local jail time for immigrants wanted by federal authorities.

Gimenez issued his Jan. 26 directive to county jails the day after Trump ordered his administration to move toward withholding federal funds from so-called “sanctuary” communities that don’t cooperate fully with immigration authorities. Gimenez and the original sponsor of the 2013 policy change, Commissioner Sally Heyman, have been fighting the sanctuary designation since a 2016 report by the Obama Justice Department applied the status to Miami-Dade.

“Mayor Gimenez’s Executive Order should result in the removal of Miami-Dade County as a sanctuary community,” Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said Monday in response to the letter. “It was a responsible order that protects the county from potentially losing hundreds of millions of federal funding for critical services such as public safety, transportation and housing.”

The letter comes a day before Miami-Dade commissioners will convene for the first time since Gimenez’s order, which reversed a policy the board adopted in 2013 to effectively halt compliance with the 48-hour detention requests from Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents.

The County should not give in to President Trump’s bluster.

Feb. 6 letter from the ACLU and other organizations to Miami-Dade commissioners

Gimenez’s office has not released an explanation of the legal basis behind the mayor’s unilateral change in county policy. During WPLG’s “This Week in South Florida” on Sunday, Gimenez said he needed commission approval for his order to stick. “It has to be ratified by the commission,” Gimenez said. “It’s a two-step process.”

While the commission called a special meeting Feb. 17 to review the mayor’s order, groups against the new policy plan to address commissioners at Tuesday’s regular twice-a-month meeting. “This is life and death for a lot of people in this community,” said Juan Cuba, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. “The County Commission needs to hear from us immediately.”

Commissioner Xavier Suarez issued an apparent rebuke of Gimenez’s actions, saying Monday “the long-standing policy of the Commission should be honored going forward” for immigration detention requests.

At issue is just how much resistance Miami-Dade needs to show the White House amid a national debate over local cooperation with deportation efforts and the new administration’s tough public stance on illegal immigration. From Jan. 26 through the weekend, Miami-Dade jails had processed 27 detention requests, a pace that suggests more than 1,000 people could be held for ICE by year’s end.

The letter to commissioners claims Miami-Dade’s original 2013 policy doesn’t conflict with Trump’s Jan. 25 order. Because Trump cited a federal statute that only requires local governments to share citizenship information with ICE, the letter argued, Miami-Dade can face no sanctions tied to local policies involving detention for the federal agency.

“Regrettably,” the letter read, “the Mayor appears to have been duped.”

Sunday on “This Week in South Florida,” Gimenez defended his order as needed to protect the county’s more than $350 million in annual federal aid — plus billions the mayor wants to expand Metrorail. “I think that money is in jeopardy,” he said.

One of the listed signers of the letter is Patricia White, dean of the University of Miami’s Law School. The letter didn’t include actual signatures, and White said she didn’t intend to be part of the communiqué. “I did not sign,” White said. “I have no idea how my name got there.” (A spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which issued a press release on the letter, had no immediate explanation.)

Leon Fresco, a former top official in the Obama Justice Department who oversaw immigration issues, said the letter correctly cites the fact that federal law requires only that local governments share information with ICE. “The only cooperation that’s actually required is that if the federal government asks for information, the local government has to provide information,” Fresco said.

That’s widely considered to include expected release dates of local inmates, Fresco said. While New York, Philadelphia and other large cities refuse to provide those details to immigration officers, the Gimenez administration said Miami-Dade would even before the mayor’s policy change. “Miami-Dade County would alert the federal government and say this individual will be released at such-and-such a time,” Hernández said in a Jan. 27 press conference. “We strongly feel we are not a sanctuary community.”

It was a responsible order that protects the county from potentially losing hundreds of millions of federal funding for critical services such as public safety, transportation and housing.

Michael Hernández, spokesman for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Fresco, who was not involved in the letter, said that by sharing release-date information, Miami-Dade was much less of a target for sanctuary status than other municipalities across the country. Trump’s order itself only marked the start of a regulatory process that posed no immediate threat to Miami-Dade’s federal funding, Fresco said.

“I would describe the mayor’s reaction as a change based on a threat of a new policy, as opposed to an actual new policy,” said Fresco, who grew up in Miami and now works in the Washington office of the Holland and Knight law firm. “If your sole policy is to be risk-averse to losing federal funding, this decision is easily explainable. If the governing policy also wants to take into account the politics surrounding immigration — and the backlash from it — this decision didn’t need to be made.”

Trump endorsed Gimenez’s decision about 90 minutes after the Miami Herald revealed it publicly, declaring Miami-Dade’s mayor made the “Right decision” in dropping the county’s “sanctuary policy.” “Strong!” Trump said in the Twitter post.