Miami-Dade County

Jeff Sessions coming to Miami to praise county for dropping ‘sanctuary’ policy

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, Friday, July 21, 2017.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, Friday, July 21, 2017. AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will travel to Miami Wednesday to praise the county for detaining local inmates also sought for deportation, a high-level endorsement of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez complying with one aspect of President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration enforcement.

The Justice Department on Tuesday announced Session’s planned 3 p.m. address at PortMiami, saying he will contrast Miami-Dade’s approach to “sanctuary policies” with that of cities like Chicago, which are defying the Trump administration’s demand that local jails extend detentions of people suspected of immigration violations.

Sen. Jeff Sessions was sworn in as attorney general on Thursday morning. "He's devoted his life to the cause of justice and believes deeply that all people are equals in the eyes of the law," President Trump said about Sessions.

Miami-Dade had been considered a “sanctuary” community since 2013, when the county commission voted to reject detention requests under the Obama administration. Chicago, San Francisco and other “sanctuary” cities are suing the Trump administration to block the loss of federal funds tied to compliance with the detention requests.

Gimenez reversed the 2013 policy on detention requests shortly after Trump took office and issued a presidential order instructing federal agencies to withhold funds from “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

The county commission backed Gimenez’s decision in a February vote, making Miami-Dade the first jurisdiction to reverse course on detention policies after Trump’s threat. Recently, the Justice Department announced that Miami-Dade was in compliance with the detainer policy and essentially no longer a “sanctuary” community, clearing the county to receive about $500,000 in law enforcement aid.

A Justice press release said Sessions will come to Miami “to give remarks highlighting jurisdictions like Miami-Dade that have increased their cooperation and information sharing with federal immigration authorities and have demonstrated a fundamental commitment to the rule of law and lowering violent crime.”

The “detainer” requests ask Miami-Dade to extend the detentions of people already booked in county jails on local charges. The requests ask for an extra 48 hours of jail time, plus weekends and holidays, to give immigration officers time to apprehend the suspects.

The prior county policy limited jails to honoring detention requests for serious offenders, and even then only if Washington broke with precedent and agreed to reimburse Miami-Dade for the extra detention time. Gimenez’s reversal of that policy in late January sparked the largest controversy of his second term, which he won by a wide margin in November.

Since Gimenez directed county jails on Jan. 26 to begin honoring all detention requests, immigration authorities have sent 463 “detainers” to the county, according to the latest tally from the mayor’s office. Out of those, 143 inmates were turned over to immigration authorities. The mayor’s office noted 319 of the people subject to the detention requests had prior offenses, meaning up to 30 percent don’t have criminal records. (Miami-Dade’s jail system said it could only check offenses recorded after 2012).

Critics accused the Cuban-born mayor of abandoning Miami’s historic embrace of immigrants, while Gimenez described the move as an incremental change to existing county policy that would protect Miami-Dade’s flow of federal funds. The county commission voted 9-3 on Feb. 17 to endorse Gimenez’s policy change.

The Justice release does not mention Gimenez, but he has emerged as the leading big-city mayor in terms of defending the detainer requests. Appearing on Fox News last week, Gimenez, a Republican who leads a heavily Democratic county, was praised by host Dana Perino, who said: “You’ve certainly shown other mayors across the country how it might be done. Hopefully they’re watching.”

During the debate ahead of the commission vote, Gimenez cited Miami-Dade’s hopes of receiving billions in transit aid from the Trump administration for an historic expansion of rail countywide. In recent weeks, he issued a memo saying federal transit aid seemed unlikely, adding more fuel to criticism of the county’s detainer policy.

Juan Cuba, head of Miami-Dade’s Democratic Party, said in a statement Tuesday: “Gimenez’s surrender to Trump’s racist policies is now complete.”

“Not only did Gimenez not get any funding for his trains, not only has no other city been penalized for keeping its sanctuary status,” Cuba wrote, “but now we have to suffer a visit from Jeff Sessions defending Trump’s racist policy at the Port — a symbol of Miami’s strength and identity.”

In the release, the Justice Department said: “While some jurisdictions are committing themselves to protecting lawlessness instead of protecting their citizens, others like Miami-Dade have realized there is far greater benefit to working together with federal authorities to combat the violent crime in our communities.”

Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said: “Mayor Gimenez will welcome Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Miami-Dade County. The mayor looks forward to continued collaboration with our federal partners. Mayor Gimenez’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities is a not a partisan or ideological issue. The Gimenez administration had been working with the Obama administration and the current administration to remove Miami-Dade County from a sanctuary cities designation.”