Miami-Dade County

County sends Trump the bill for holding immigration offenders. There’s a discount.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez addresses reporters outside of his downtown Miami offices in November 2016. His administration recently began billing Immigration authorities for some of the costs of detaining suspected immigration offenders.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez addresses reporters outside of his downtown Miami offices in November 2016. His administration recently began billing Immigration authorities for some of the costs of detaining suspected immigration offenders. DOUGLAS HANKS

Miami-Dade is finally billing the federal government for extra jailing costs tied to the county’s 2017 decision to resume detaining suspected immigration offenders but asked for only about half of its money back from the Trump administration under a long-standing reimbursement formula with Washington.

Emails from the county’s budget office show the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department asking Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reimburse what amounted to about 50 cents on the dollar for what the county says it costs to detain someone for 24 hours. Miami-Dade asked Washington to pay about $25,000 for four months of extending the detentions of people sought for deportation who get booked on unrelated local charges. The county’s actual costs are close to $50,000.

“MDCR mailed the attached billing package to INS for the ICE detainers yesterday at 5 p.m.,” Ryan Lafarga, business analyst at the county’s Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a Jan. 10 internal email. “The total amount billed for the four months is $24,408 for 216 inmate days. The actual cost, using the Inmate Cost Per Day figures for that same period, is $50,048.”

Miami-Dade has a 2014 agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service that sets reimbursement rates at $113, a negotiated amount that is about half of what the county says are the actual daily costs. Miami-Dade routinely loses money detaining people sought on federal criminal warrants, according to Corrections officials, and the county is obligated to use the same reimbursement amount with Immigration and Customs requests.

Miami-Dade commissioners on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, backed Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s controversial decision to detain jailed inmates sought for deportation by the federal government, citing funding threats by President Donald Trump and ignoring hours

The billing described in the email captures a small part of the controversy that engulfed Miami-Dade days after Donald Trump became president, when Mayor Carlos Gimenez dropped a four-year-old policy to refuse detention requests from federal authorities.

Gimenez, a Republican who backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, was the only leader of a major metropolis to cancel so-called “sanctuary” protections for immigration offenders after Trump threatened to cut federal funding for uncooperative jurisdictions. At the time, Gimenez said the risk of losing out on millions — if not billions — in federal funds justified the extra detention costs Miami-Dade would have to pay.

Detention costs were part of Miami-Dade’s 2013 justification in refusing the “detainer” requests, which ask jails to add 48 hours onto the detention time of alleged immigration offenders who are booked and jailed on unrelated charges. The detainer program did not become active until the end of the administration of President George W. Bush, and peaked under President Barack Obama.

Miami-Dade honored detention requests under both administrations, but pressure from immigration advocates and the mounting costs of holding people sought for deportation even for a brief time prompted county leaders to change course in 2013. Late that year the County Commission voted for a new policy restricting detainer requests to suspects accused of serious criminal offenses. Crucially, the county would only agree to hold those suspects for authorities if the federal government agreed to reimburse the extra detention costs in full.

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.

Since Washington wouldn’t agree to the reimbursement requests, the vote during Gimenez’s third year as mayor ended Miami-Dade’s honoring of “detainers” and began its unofficial status as a “sanctuary” jurisdiction.

While Miami-Dade is once again honoring detainers from immigration authorities, it is receiving far fewer than it did under Obama. Corrections reports that in 2012, the county released 1,193 suspected immigration offenders to authorities due to detainers. That’s compared to 436 last year under Trump.

Miami-Dade has not released its full detention expenses under the resumed compliance with detainers. Since September, detainers — which last for 48 hours, but sometimes have covered two days plus weekends and holidays — accounted for 216 days of detention, according to Corrections. Using what the emails describe as a $113 per diem reimbursement rate, the Corrections department said it billed Immigration and Customs $24,408.

Officials said they plan to bill Immigration and Customs for detainer costs since January 2017, but only have electronic records customized to the new policy since September. With that data available, Miami-Dade opted to bill for the most recent four months first and will use paper records to complete bills for the January-to-August period.

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