President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants local cops to do exactly what Miami-Dade County police say they would like to avoid: work much more closely with federal immigration authorities.
Speaking to a conference of police chiefs in Washington, Trump urged cops to turn over “bad” immigrants who are in the country illegally to the Department of Homeland Security. That’s home to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees deportations.
Trump told police they could tell Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — the former head of the U.S. Southern Command in Doral — “who the illegal immigrant gang members are.”
“You know the illegals. You know them by their first name. You know them by their nicknames,” Trump said. “You’re in the neighborhoods: You know the bad ones, you know the good ones. I want you to turn in the bad ones.”
Miami-Dade police have no qualms about alerting immigration to violent criminals they have arrested. But the definition of “bad” is hazy, and local cops still have lingering questions over how far the administration may push them to cooperate.
“It’s clear that they haven’t established any policies yet,” said Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Pérez, who attended the Major Cities Chiefs Association and Major County Sheriff’s Association conference where Trump spoke. “It’s still too soon.”
For nearly two weeks — ever since County Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered local jails to comply with a contentious Trump executive order cracking down on “sanctuary” cities and counties for undocumented immigrants — Pérez has been telling anyone who will listen that his cops have no interest in checking people’s papers to learn their immigration status.
“We don’t want to be involved with anything having to do with immigration,” Pérez told the Miami Herald on Monday. “We’ve been pretty clear.”
Miami-Dade has agreed to hold inmates wanted by federal immigration authorities for 48 hours, breaking from past policy that had Miami-Dade declining “detainer” requests since 2014. In late 2013, county commissioners set a policy to honor detainer requests for people with felony records or sought for serious crimes only if the feds fully reimbursed the county for the expense — which Washington didn’t do.
Trump’s Jan. 25 order threatened to end federal funding for jurisdictions that refused to comply with Secure Communities, the Bush-era immigration policy (later abandoned by the Obama administration) that asked jails to detain undocumented inmates. Because those requests were expensive and not binding — and some courts ruled that certain detentions were unconstitutional — a slew of communities did not comply, or set criteria to limit compliance. Broward and Palm Beach counties require signed deportation orders or judicial warrants to hold inmates.
Gimenez’s Jan. 26 directive effectively reversed Miami-Dade’s informal stance as an undocumented-immigrant “sanctuary,” prompting an angry protest against the mayor of a county where a majority of residents are foreign-born. County commissioners are scheduled to take up the issue next week; they kicked activists out of a heated commission meeting Tuesday because the immigration question was not on the day’s agenda. Whether Miami-Dade would have even qualified as a sanctuary under Trump’s order is questionable, given that there is no legal definition for the term and the county was already notifying immigration authorities of inmates’ identity.
The White House, though, has held up Miami-Dade as an example. Trump touted Gimenez’s decision in a tweet less than 90 minutes after the mayor’s directive was made public by the Miami Herald. On Wednesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who fielded three questions from local reporters from around the country about the president’s threat against sanctuary cities, pointed to the county as an example.
“I think more areas, like Miami-Dade down in Florida, understand the importance of this order,” he said. “And we hope cities like Cincinnati and other communities around the country follow their lead and comply with that.”
Trump later tweeted results from a national poll by Morning Consult and Politico that found that 55 percent of respondents approve of his executive order on sanctuary cities, compared to 33 percent who disapprove, making it the most popular of his actions so far.
Separate from the Secure Communities reinstatement, another section of Trump’s order calls for drafting agreements between the federal government and the states “to empower State and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform the functions of an immigration officer in the interior of the United States to the maximum extent permitted by law.”
Cops in major cities, including across South Florida, have long fought such an effort, saying deputizing police to enforce immigration law could deter undocumented witnesses or victims of crime to come forward.
“We want to cooperate with immigration, but we don’t want the role of immigration,” Pérez said.
He added that he volunteered to serve on a committee, if one is established, to define local police agencies’ role in working with the feds.
“I have always said Miami-Dade police will not be immigration officers,” Gimenez said Tuesday. “People ought to do their job: That’s the federal government’s job.”
Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.