Miami-Dade County

Oops: County issues faulty data on first-time offenders held on immigration charges

Inmates at a Miami-Dade jail in this file photo. The county faces increased detention costs for jailing suspected immigration offenders, but the actual amount is in dispute.
Inmates at a Miami-Dade jail in this file photo. The county faces increased detention costs for jailing suspected immigration offenders, but the actual amount is in dispute. El Nuevo Herald

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez dismissed as “hogwash” a new report critical of the county’s detention policies for suspected immigration offenders, but the analysis was partially based on numbers that the county now admits were faulty.

The Florida ImmigrantCoalition this week released a report claiming that 98 percent of the people Miami-Dade turned over to immigration authorities were first-time criminal offenders. The county says the actual number is closer to 30 percent. But a weekly report from Miami-Dade’s Corrections Department backs up the Immigrant Coalition’s findings, prompting the county agency to admit Tuesday that there was a fundamental flaw in the government document cited by the advocacy group’s analysis.

“It’s computer generated,” Corrections spokesman Juan Diasgranados said. “There’s an error.”

The miscounted number involves first-time offenders booked in local jails on unrelated criminal offenses and then turned over to federal immigration authorities for possible deportation. That group of undocumented immigrants is at the heart of a national debate over “sanctuary” communities. Those are typically city or county governments that decline to honor 48-hour detention requests from federal authorities that want to pick up an immigration offender after he or she is released from local jails.

Miami-Dade earned the sanctuary label in 2013 when it stopped accepting the “detainer” requests from the Obama administration, then earned national attention when Gimenez decided to begin accepting them again days after Donald Trump became president in 2017.

When accepted, detainer requests have local jails hold people up to 48 hours longer in order to give immigration officers two days to pick them up. If not taken into federal custody within 48 hours, the subject of the detainer request is supposed to be let go by the jail. Immigration authorities issued nearly 1,000 detainers to Miami-Dade last year, and county jails reported turning over more than 400 people for possible deportation under the Gimenez policy that was endorsed by the County Commission early last year.

Alana Greer, a lawyer who helped write the report, said it makes sense that a higher number of first-time offenders would be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement because the more serious offenders would be stuck in jail. Immigration generally takes custody of the suspected immigration offenders after they’re released from local custody.

“Minor charges are going to have a faster pace through the system,” said Greer, of the Community Justice Project, a sponsor of the report. “The 48-hour [detainer] period starts after local custody has ended. That’s when ICE steps in.”

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade said that of the 500 people released to Immigration authorities through Feb. 2, only 32 percent were first-time offenders — a third of the rate cited by the advocacy group’s report, using county numbers.

The county report with the faulty numbers does not list a percentage of first-time offenders subjected to detainer requests. Generated weekly by Corrections and released to the public upon request, the “Detainer Hold Report” shows current inmates in custody facing detainer requests. Those listings show the vast majority of the inmates in question are repeat criminal offenders.

But because they’re still in county custody, it’s not known if those inmates will actually be turned over to Immigration or if federal agents will ultimately decline to take them into custody or drop the detainer requests altogether. The back of the report summarizes details about the hundreds of inmates who were actually turned over to federal authorities. All but seven were listed as first-time offenders.

Diasgranados said he didn’t have an immediate explanation for the mistake, but that Corrections was working on a corrected report to be issued Wednesday.

While the dispute over the first-time offenders was dismissed as a paperwork error, a larger argument over the costs of Miami-Dade’s detention policy is more complicated. The immigration coalition’s “Cost of Complicity” report claims honoring federal “detainers” last year meant $14 million in detention expenses for a county jail system that relies on property taxes for most of its $352 million budget. The county rejected that estimate as far too high.

The immigrant group, a leading critic of the county’s 2017 policy change, said accepting the immigration detainers or “holds” discourages people from posting bond, since they know deportation is possible once they leave jail.

“Family members attempting to post bail for loved ones have reported being turned away or strongly discouraged by corrections staff when immigration hold is in place, and for good reason,” read the report. “Once in ICE custody, their loved one can be transferred anywhere in the country.”

It costs about $230 to jail someone in Miami-Dade for 24 hours, and the report uses a 2013 county analysis to conclude someone subject to a detainer tends to stay in jail nearly three times longer than an average inmate — resulting in nearly 60 extra days of detention. From there, it concludes the roughly 1,000 detainer requests amounted to $14 million in added detention costs.

But Corrections officials disputed the math, saying the 2013 figure was outdated and that an inmate facing a detainer tends to stay in jail about seven days longer. That would result in about $1.6 million in additional costs, though it doesn’t account for any lost detention time for someone who would otherwise be jailed once convicted if he or she hadn’t ended up in Immigration custody while awaiting trial.

Gimenez dismissed the report as misleading. “It’s hogwash,” he said. “It’s ideologically based.”