The Trump administration on Friday lashed out at local governments accused of offering sanctuary to immigration offenders, warning they must prove compliance with federal policies or lose crime-fighting grant money.
Miami-Dade was one of nine jurisdictions to receive a warning letter, which went out to jurisdictions identified as so-called sanctuary communities by the Obama Justice Department in 2016. After Trump took office, Miami-Dade reversed county policy and began extending detentions for local inmates sought by immigration authorities.
The letter was revealed in a scathing Justice Department press release that warned “many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime.” The release didn’t mention Miami-Dade, but cited murders in Chicago that had “skyrocketed,” “gang murder after gang murder” in New York, and California authorities who seemed more concerned about “reassuring illegal immigrants” than trumpeting a recent federal sweep of gang members.
Miami-Dade didn’t receive advance warning about the Justice Department letter, which misspelled Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s name as “Giminez.”
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During the debate, critics accused the Cuban-born Republican of betraying Miami’s immigrant tradition by appeasing Trump with his change in the county’s detention policy a day after the president warned he would strip “sanctuary” jurisdictions of federal funding.
Gimenez argued the change mostly dropped Miami-Dade’s demand for compensation to extend jail time for people already held on local charges, and said it wasn’t worth jeopardizing federal funds over the issue.
Friday’s demands from Trump’s Justice Department represented an escalation in the crackdown Gimenez said Miami-Dade is avoiding thanks to the new policy, which the county commission backed in a February vote. While the other eight jurisdictions cited Friday retained their “sanctuary” policies after Trump took office, Miami-Dade hasn’t.
“We think that’s just a generic letter,” said Michael Hernández, communications director for Gimenez. “Miami-Dade County is in full compliance.”
The letter from Alan Hanson, acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, summarizes rules in place during the Obama administration . They require grant recipients to comply with federal laws requiring local governments to share information on immigration status with federal authorities.
Miami-Dade receives about $1 million a year from Justice’s Byrne program, which pays for police equipment and other anti-crime expenditures. Hanson wrote Gimenez that failure to comply with the immigration provision could result in canceling the grant.
While Trump promised during his campaign to crack down on illegal immigration, his administration has yet to withhold any money from cities or states over “sanctuary” policies. San Francisco is suing to invalidate a Jan. 25 presidential order demanding the funding cuts.
San Francisco did not receive a letter Friday, since it was not listed in a 2016 report from the Obama Justice Department singling out some of the local governments viewed as “sanctuary” jurisdictions. That report said it was only selecting a small slice of jurisdictions that don’t fully comply with federal immigration authorities, and Miami-Dade made the list of 10 cities, counties and states cited.
In 2013, Miami-Dade began denying “detainer” requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying it would hold inmates longer only if they had criminal histories or faced severe charges. Even then, Miami-Dade would honor the detention request only if Washington agreed to reimburse the county for extra detention time — money that federal authorities refused to pay.
Gimenez dropped that policy on Jan. 26, ordering county jails to begin honoring all detention requests. Miami-Dade has accepted more than 100 of the requests since then.