Critics thrown out of the County Commission chambers
The chairman of Miami-Dade’s County Commission ordered police to remove several speakers who addressed the county’s new practice of detaining local inmates for federal immigration officers, as the national protest of President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented residents continued to roil Miami politics.
“What did I say?” Juan Cuba, chairman of the county’s Democratic Party, said as two armed commission guards stood around him after Cuba finished his comments before the board Tuesday. Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo told the sergeants-at-arms to remove him after the chairman of the 13-member board warned audience members against addressing topics not on the day’s agenda.
“Chairman Bovo is censoring people. They are censoring the way we speak,” Cuba said as an officer took him by the arm and led him out of the chambers. “This is not the way we should conduct public hearings. This is unconstitutional, Mr. Chairman.”
As Cuba exited, a few dozen supporters stood up and staged a rowdy walkout, chanting: “When black and brown bodies are under attack, what do we do? Fight back!”
The dramatic display spilled from the second-floor chambers to the lobby, where security was beefed up in anticipation of the latest protest of Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s Jan. 26 order reversing the commission’s 2013 policy to stop honoring federal detention requests.
Gimenez said urgent action was needed after Trump issued his own order the day before to strip federal funding from communities who provide “sanctuary” to people sought by immigration authorities. In honoring the requests, Miami-Dade jails add up to 48 hours, plus weekends, to a local inmate’s detention time in order to give immigration officers more time to apprehend or question them.
Bovo, a Republican in a nonpartisan post, has called a special meeting on Feb. 17 to “discuss” the county’s policy, but has yet to release what that might entail, including possible legislation to either ratify Gimenez’s actions, modify it, or overturn it. Cuba and other critics accused Bovo of slow-walking the issue in order to lessen public anger over Gimenez’s change. This is the third County Hall demonstration against it.
Bovo opened the meeting’s public-comments section, where people are given two minutes to address issues before the board, with an unusual warning: “I want to make clear the board will confine itself to consider items appearing on today’s agenda. … I have instructed the sergeant-at-arms to maintain decorum consistent with the board’s established rules of procedure.”
What followed was a game of parliamentary cat and mouse, with Cuba and other protesters — many wearing white “resistance” flowers on their shirts — rising to speak about an agenda item urging Florida to ease sanctions for juvenile offenders, but then segueing into remarks about detaining undocumented immigrants.
“I urge the commission to amend this resolution to include support for any state legislation that protects undocumented immigrants,” Reneé Mowatt told commissioners after filling out a speaker’s card to address the juvenile-offender item.
Bovo interrupted: “OK, that’s not the subject that we’re talking about. … I know the game we’re playing.”
“OK,” replied Mowatt, a communications coordinator at New Florida Majority, an activist group often aligned with Democrats. “Our communities are living in fear. The community needs to hear from this commission. You need to send a message that you oppose Trump and Gimenez —”
“Excuse me, excuse me,” Bovo said. “If we’re going to come here and speak to the [agenda], you’re more than welcome. If you’ve come here to make political statements, this is not what we’re discussing. ... You will have your opportunity at a future meeting.”
Mowatt tried to retake her seat in the audience, but a commission police officer escorted her out of the chambers. “Those are the rules,” the officer said.
Some speakers danced around the subject of undocumented immigrants. “We don’t want to ruin peoples’ lives,” Glenn Rehn, a union organizer, said in reference to juvenile offenders. “We extend that spirit to the group of folks, very prevalent in Miami-Dade County, that I cannot mention today.”
“Thank you,” Bovo said. “You did a good job.”
Others defied the rules. “I will not sit in fear of this commission to say the word ‘immigrant,’ ” Gaby Garcia-Vera said from the lectern. As guards steered him away from his spot near the dais, Garcia-Vera lifted his arm to the cheering crowd and shouted: “We will not stop saying the word ‘immigrant’ because it is uncomfortable!”
He joined the throng of protesters who reassembled in the County Hall lobby for more chants. Then a trio of people in pro-Trump shirts intervened with a small counter demonstration. Juan Fiol, a real estate agent and Miami-born son of Cuban immigrants, held his county registration card before television cameras to prove his citizenship.
“We want the mayor and the commission to know,” Fiol said, “that this community doesn’t want criminals given sanctuary.”