Miami-Dade County

Are immigration detention requests a secret? The mayor and the feds are at odds

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez during a Fox News town hall on Feb. 21 to discuss his decision to honor detention requests from immigration authorities.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez during a Fox News town hall on Feb. 21 to discuss his decision to honor detention requests from immigration authorities. Miami Herald

Miami-Dade drew national attention this year when it began honoring detention requests at local jails from federal immigration authorities. What’s actually in the requests? That remains an official secret.

The Miami Herald filed a public records request last month to examine dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement “detainer” requests on file at the county’s Corrections Department. Initially, the county agreed to turn over 62 pages at a cost of $163. But this week, a county spokesman reversed course and said ICE lawyers insisted the documents can’t be made public.

In a memo to the county’s legal department Thursday, Mayor Carlos Gimenez objected to the secrecy, saying his administration wants to release the records.

“I strongly believe that the release of the forms is consistent with the County’s practice of disclosure and transparency, and this information should not be withheld from the public,” Gimenez wrote to Abigail Price-Williams, county attorney. “Therefore, I request that you immediately seek written authorization from the federal government allowing the County to release these forms to the public.”

Hours after the memo was released, the mayor’s office revealed it would no longer identify people it was currently holding for ICE.

Acting on demands from ICE’s legal office last week, Miami-Dade now only releases the names of detainer targets who are still being held on local charges. The county no longer identifies people actually being held for ICE — those who would otherwise be free to go, but must remain in jail for up to 48 hours (plus weekends and holidays) because immigration authorities want to apprehend them.

“The names that are not provided are the ones who have completed serving their county time but are in that period of up to 48 hours where they can remain in a county facility waiting for ICE to take them into custody,” said Michael Hernández, Gimenez’s spokesman.

The new list of detention requests show 69 inmates currently subject to them. People who have been turned over to ICE no longer are identified. That includes James Lacroix, the Haitian citizen who was turned over to immigration authorities after pleading guilty Feb. 28 to driving with a suspended license in Miami.

Miami-Dade now names only the local charges of people who were subject to detainer requests but then released — be it to ICE, or on the street, if no immigration officer arrived in time to apprehend the person. That list shows Miami-Dade has turned over 39 people to ICE since Jan. 27. Another 10 people were let go after ICE did not apprehend them.

An ICE spokesman declined to comment.

But an official at the agency who did not want to be identified forwarded the section of the federal Aliens and Nationality code that declares the detainer forms exempt from public-record laws and states no “local government entity” may release information about detainees. Last month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a sheriff withholding the detainer forms from Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant-rights group.

The push back against confidentiality from Gimenez has the mayor advocating to disclose the forms that sparked one of the most high-profile controversies of his six years in office. Miami-Dade commissioners voted in 2013 to essentially stop honoring the requests, which extend detention times for local inmates sought for possible deportation by ICE. Shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump promised funding cuts for communities providing “sanctuary” for immigration offenders, a heading generally tied to ignoring detainer requests.

Citing the budgetary risks, Gimenez on Jan. 26 ordered Corrections to begin honoring all detainer requests. The decision, later backed by the commission, prompted a string of protests as well as public praise from Trump, who called the move “Strong!” in a tweet.

A judge struck down Gimenez’s order earlier this month, saying Miami-Dade should not be holding inmates on the federal government’s behalf. That decision was immediately suspended after Miami-Dade appealed, and the county continues honoring detention requests.

More than 100 requests have been received since the mayor’s Jan. 26 policy change. The county sporadically releases lists of inmates who are the subject of the detention requests, which generally hold someone up to 48 hours longer after they would otherwise be free to go on their local charges. ICE flags the person when he or she is booked on local charges, then sends Miami-Dade a request to hold them until immigration officers can apprehend the person.

The Herald on Feb. 5 requested to see the forms that trigger the extra detention.

In his memo, Gimenez suggested Miami-Dade would begin releasing the forms if further legal review concluded the ICE forms should be considered public.

“While we will continue to comply with federal law,” Gimenez wrote, “we will also continue to release and disclose public information, as permitted by law.”