The pitch from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office came to big-city mayors across the country late last week: Join him in a letter to President-elect Donald Trump asking to protect young people brought into the U.S. illegally as children who have received a temporary reprieve from deportation.
Eighteen mayors signed on. None was from Florida.
Emanuel, a Democrat and former White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama, hand-delivered the letter to Trump in New York on Wednesday, getting plenty of national attention for sitting down with the Republican president-elect to defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers.”
“DACA makes our communities and country safer — both in terms of national security and public safety,” said the letter, signed by Emanuel and mayors such as Bill de Blasio of New York, Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Sylvester Turner of Houston and Marty Walsh of Boston.
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The absence of any Florida leader was striking — especially in immigrant-rich South Florida, where the mayors of two of the largest municipalities, Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami, are both Cuban-born immigrants.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who learned of Emanuel’s letter from a Miami Herald reporter’s tweet Wednesday morning, quickly posted himself that he would have signed it — had he been asked.
“I would have signed that letter in a heartbeat,” Regalado later told the Herald in a telephone interview. “It’s the right thing. I think that what the mayors did is fantastic, but I think they’re missing a lot of mayors, and I hope that they expand it. It should be a Republican, Democratic and independent thing.”
All of the mayors on Emanuel’s letter are Democrats. Regalado is a Republican.
So is Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez — whose office did get a request from an Emanuel aide asking him to ink his name to the letter, Gimenez’s office acknowledged late Wednesday afternoon. On Friday, Gimenez asked for a policy briefing to help make up his mind. But the briefing didn’t take place before the letter was printed and handed to Trump.
Gimenez traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Monday to learn about the latest efforts to combat the Zika virus. He sat through a county commission meeting Tuesday. He flew to Washington on Wednesday to ask members of Congress for money to pay for public transportation projects.
“Mayor Gimenez supports comprehensive immigration reform,” said his spokesman, Michael Hernández.
Immigration is poised to be a major issue in Trump’s administration, especially in places like Miami, where nearly 58 percent of the city’s population is foreign-born, according to the Census. So is nearly 52 percent of the county’s.
In addition to his promise to “build a wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump the candidate pledged to overturn Obama’s executive actions — such as the one that created DACA. However, Trump indicated in a Time Magazine interview published Wednesday that he might not leave DACA recipients unprotected.
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” Trump said. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Neither Gimenez nor Regalado, both in nonpartisan posts, backed Trump for president. Gimenez said he voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton; Regalado said he left the presidential race blank on his ballot.
Gimenez, though, reached out to the president-elect on Nov. 26, after the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Trump returned Gimenez’s call; the two men know each other from before the presidential campaign and have golfed together.
Emanuel told reporters at Trump Tower in Manhattan that young people protected by DACA shouldn’t be targeted, especially given that in order to qualify for deportation protection they notified the federal government in good faith of their identity and whereabouts.
“They’re trying to achieve the American Dream. It’s no fault of their own their parents came here,” Emanuel said. “We should embrace them, rather than do a bait-and-switch.”
Emanuel said he also defended sanctuary cities to Trump, who has pledged to do away with federal funding for municipalities that fail to cooperate with federal immigration detentions.
Miami-Dade acts as a de facto sanctuary county, though Gimenez has tried to argue since the election that the county is not formally a sanctuary because it’s only avoiding federal detentions to save money, not make a political statement.