Fabiola Santiago

Shameful: Miami’s elected leaders fail to speak up for DREAMers

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks with members of the media after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks with members of the media after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday. AP

It didn’t take long to find out how Miami-Dade elected officials will respond to a Donald Trump presidency: with political cowardice.

In this quintessential immigrant metropolis — where Cuban Americans dominate the political landscape — the leadership should be prepped and ready to lock arms in defense of some of the most vulnerable people in our community: undocumented immigrant youth about to lose legal protections.

But the silence and the lack of interest are shameful.

Who has taken the lead? Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel, who headed to Trump Tower and hand-delivered a letter in support of DREAMers, hoping to persuade Trump to keep in place the program that protects from deportation these young people who were brought to this country as children and see themselves as Americans.

The letter is backed and signed by 18 other mayors — a pitiful number made worse by the most incongruous absence of Miami representation. Hello! Anyone out there?

Nope, in South Florida we bask in the comfortable la-la land of the Cubans’ ready-made legal status — available upon arrival by beach, Mexican border, or tourist visa.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado tells The Miami Herald he didn’t know about Emanuel’s letter in support of keeping President Barack Obama’s program known as DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. He supports DREAMers and would’ve signed had Emanuel’s office reached out to him. But if the issue affected Cubans, I doubt Regalado would’ve missed a beat.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez knows of the letter, was asked to sign it, but didn’t. He’s full of excuses about why. He was out of town on a multitude of county business. Yet he didn’t hesitate to reach out to Trump after Fidel Castro died. He says through a spokesman that he supports comprehensive immigration reform and needs a legal briefing on DACA.

Does he not live in this town? Is Miami not the Gateway to the Americas?

After all that hand-wringing and my call seeking comment, Gimenez issued a statement Thursday: “I fully support the extension of DACA until Congress can approve and our next President can sign comprehensive immigration reform which addresses the status of our Dreamers and the millions who lack legal status throughout the country.”

And he finally acknowledges the obvious: “Miami-Dade County is home to thousands of young people who through no fault of their own were brought to the United States by their parents and are currently undocumented. They deserve an opportunity to achieve the American Dream. I encourage the next Congress to prioritize common sense immigration reform.”

That Gimenez, a savvy politician, needs a briefing on a presidential program that has been in the news and in place since Obama won re-election in 2012 is ridiculous. The undocumented are not strangers but high-achieving students, neighbors, entrepreneurs and members of the military.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson honors in a floor speech a Jacksonville veteran who serves in the Army and Navy reserves, and after his undocumented status was discovered, was sent to a detention center in 2011 despite his service. Nelson is also supporting a bipartisan group of senators working on legislation to help DREAMers and their parents.

Where is Florida’s other senator, Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American son of immigrants who might have not entered this country if the U.S. government had applied the by-the-book conduct their son demands of others?

In classic form, Rubio is missing from the conversation. Doesn’t show up even at a time when those who elected Trump are targeting the undocumented with wholesale hatred. In the anti-immigrant Florida that elected Trump, undocumented students are facing a hostile environment. Although the next legislative session is months way, a Sarasota legislator has already introduced a bill to eliminate in-state tuition for DREAMers, a hateful step backward to deny children school here a college education. Yet not a peep of outrage from the Miami-Dade legislative delegation.

Given the precarious situation DREAMers are facing, how can our mayors, legislators and members of Congress not play an active and influential role on this issue?

This community should be wrapping its arms around DREAMers and their parents in the tightest of embraces.