Editorials

Despite Trump’s threat, Miami-Dade should detain just violent illegal immigrants

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Protesters erupt at downtown government center in Miami

Protesters gather at the Stephen P. Clark Center to protest against Miami-Dade Mayor’s Carlos Gimenez decision to effectively abandon the county’s stance as a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants.
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Protesters gather at the Stephen P. Clark Center to protest against Miami-Dade Mayor’s Carlos Gimenez decision to effectively abandon the county’s stance as a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants.

We understand why Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez did what he did. And we understand why immigrant advocates are livid. Gimenez issued a controversial order on Thursday to assure the Trump administration that Miami-Dade is not functioning as a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants.

Here’s why: President Trump has signaled loud and clear that he’s coming hard after such municipalities — and will punish them by pulling federal funding. For Miami-Dade that represents $355 million of the county’s $1.7 billion annual budget. For Gimenez, this is about economics, not politics.

Though the mayor has shunned the label “sanctuary city,” Miami-Dade has acted like one in recent years — with an assist from the Obama administration. Before President Obama, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal agencies were alerted when illegal immigrants were arrested for anything from driving without a license to homicide. If anyone’s name raised a red flag, ICE would issue a “detainer request” asking the municipality to hold on to the undocumented immigrant. Obama loosened the rules. ICE was alerted only if the person in custody was accused of a serious or violent crime. The vast majority bonded out.

Last year, out of 80,000 people arrested in Miami-Dade, 174 were ordered detained by ICE.

Under Trump, the policy is more onerous, going after everybody who’s arrested and undocumented. It’s unfortunate that Trump’s bullying no doubt will be the new normal.

Where critics say Gimenez has caved, we say that he was in a tough spot, especially in this county of immigrants. “The mayor is the mayor of all the people and will not do anything to jeopardize federal funding for our county,” Gimenez’s spokesman, Mike Hernandez, told the Editorial Board.

Friday, county officials shut the doors of County Hall in the face of scores of angry protesters outside. Their disgust is understandable. But the Trump administration should honor its word, as of last week, pursuing only the undocumented immigrants suspected of crimes of violence; those who have been deported, then sneaked back into the country.

The hard worker busted for driving without a license should not be among those detained by the county for ICE. To do otherwise would be counterproductive, damaging to families.

Undocumented immigrants fears are not unfounded. And the mayor’s office must keep its vows that Miami-Dade police officers will not become immigration officers. They should not be agents of questionable federal policy, especially in the absence of rational and cohesive national immigration reform.

In addition, municipal police departments, too, should keep officers focused on their local responsibilities. No one should be arrested for being an illegal immigrant, plus it’s a civil offense in the eyes of the localities, not a criminal violation.

We urge the president to maintain a humane approach here, just as he has softened his stance on deporting DREAMers.

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