Miami-Dade has drawn an unlikely opponent to the county landing the 2020 Democratic National Convention. On Monday, the chairman of the county Democratic party urged national Democrats to look elsewhere unless Miami-Dade reverses a 2017 decision to comply with President Donald Trump's crackdown on immigration detentions.
Addressing national Democratic chairman Tom Perez on Twitter, Miami-Dade chair Juan Cuba wrote: "It's with great regret that I urge you to remove Miami from contention until they reverse their anti-immigrant policies of cooperating with ICE to deport our friends & neighbors."
Miami-Dade is one of three finalists bidding for the Democratic National Convention to be held July 13-16, 2020. If Miami-Dade wins, it would be the first time in nearly 50 years that the county will host a major political convention. Leaders from the county and the cities of Miami and Miami Beach made their pitch to the Democrats Friday in Washington D.C. Next, a committee of Democrats will visit the finalist cities and begin contract negotiations. The DNC plans to announce the 2020 host city in January.
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The other two finalists for the 2020 Democratic convention — Houston and Milwaukee — also accept the federal detention requests at the heart of Miami-Dade's immigration controversy. But those jurisdictions had accepted the requests during the Obama administration, too, sparing them the national spotlight that came to Miami-Dade when it was the first major metro area to change policies after the 2016 presidential election.
Days after Trump took office, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez reversed a five-year policy of refusing detention requests from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The requests ask jails to extend detentions by 48 hours for people who are booked on unrelated local charges and are flagged on federal watch lists for alleged immigration offenders being sought for deportation.
The 2017 change in Miami-Dade — implemented by a Republican mayor but backed by a bipartisan coalition of county commissioners — reverted to the county's 2013 policy of accepting "detainer" requests.
That changed in late 2013 when the county commission, supported by Gimenez, approved a far more restrictive policy on the request.s Between 2013 and early 2017, county jails would only consider detainers for people accused of serious crimes, and then only if Washington took the rare step of agreeing to pay for additional detention expenses.
Because it declined detainer requests, Miami-Dade was considered a "sanctuary" jurisdiction during the Obama administration, a label that took on more significance under Trump. The new president vowed to withhold federal funds from "sanctuary" communities, though the administration has so far failed at imposing financial penalties on state and local governments not honoring detainers.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, the top Democrat representing Miami-Dade in last week's convention pitch at the party's national headquarters in Washington, D.C., said it didn't make sense to "politicize" the region trying to snag a major convention. Luring a Democratic convention to town hardly signals an endorsement of Miami-Dade's detainer policy, he said.
"I'd love people to raise these issues in Miami in 2020. But the idea that you don't even have the discourse is just shortsighted," he said. "Every community is going to have something that is offensive to somebody."
During his 2016 reelection campaign, Gimenez called on Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race over the "Access Hollywood" tape and said he would be voting for Hillary Clinton. Born in Cuba, Gimenez supports deferred action for children of people who entered the country illegally — a group known as "Dreamers" — and came out against Trump's policy of separating families caught at the border on immigration offenses.
"The mayor holds a nonpartisan post and he has worked hard across party lines on many issues," said Myriam Marquez, the mayor's communications director, pointing to Miami-Dade's body-camera program for police and the county's priority on sea level rise. "When it came to the issue of detainers, he simply wanted to protect county taxpayers."
Cuba focused his convention demands on the mayor, urging national Democrats to consider Miami-Dade only if Gimenez stops "his anti-immigration policy."
Cuba's public anti-convention push comes weeks after the local party chairman helped marshal Democratic volunteers and campaign cash for Eileen Higgins, a Democrat running against a Republican for a nonpartisan seat on the County Commission.
Her election gave the Democrats seven of the commission's 13 seats, though party didn't matter in the 2017 debate over Trump's immigration demands.
Three Democrats, Audrey Edmonson, Sally Heyman and Dennis Moss, voted with Gimenez last year to endorse the new detainer policy, and the resolution passed 9-3. Higgins would only narrow the spread to 8-4. Still, with Miami-Dade still waiting for a windfall in federal funds from the Trump administration and defiant "sanctuary" cities like Chicago not being punished financially, some Democrats are urging the county to revisit the issue.
Joe Garcia, a former Democratic congressman representing parts of Miami-Dade, said Cuba was smart to use his leverage as local party chair to pressure county leaders on the detainer issue.
"Squeaky wheels get the grease," said Garcia, who lost his reelection bid in 2014 and now works for the Mercury public affairs firm. "You're asking for the Democratic convention. [Cuba heads] the largest Democratic committee in Florida. I'd pay attention."
Miami would play host to the 2020 convention's speeches and voting at the county-owned AmericanAirlines Arena downtown. Miami Beach, home to both the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 1972, would hold convention-related events and play host to registration and other logistical centers for an event expected to attract more than 30,000 visitors. The national Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment.
In a text message, Cuba said his posts represented a "personal plea" and that the county's Democratic Party would issue its own position later that night. The state Democratic Party seemed to be countering Cuba on Monday when it posted its own Twitter statement praising the convention bid, saying there was "no better way to highlight @fladems and bring attention to the issues FL families face as a result of @GOP policies than to bring a national spotlight to Florida!"