THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY: LIZETTE ALVAREZ
MIAMI — In a place that thinks of itself as the capital of Latin America, the Miami-Dade County mayor’s decision last week to jump out front and heed President Trump’s executive order demanding cooperation with immigration agents has set off consternation and protests.
Residents have marched on County Hall and accused the mayor, Carlos Gimenez — a former Cuban refugee — of betraying a county that proudly boasts the second largest number of immigrants in the United States and was considered a sanctuary city. Making matters worse, they said, Mr. Gimenez, who feared losing federal grant money, was the first big-city mayor to do so. Protesters have vowed to pack the county commission meeting next week.
“It’s embarrassing in this city of immigrants, in a multicultural, diverse place like this that our mayor is not taking a strong stance,” said Tomás Kennedy, 25, a college student from Argentina who became a United States citizen after being undocumented for 17 years, and who joined the latest protest Tuesday. “He is an immigrant himself. He came here fleeing political persecution from Cuba. He knows firsthand what immigrants and refugees contribute to this county.’’
Last Thursday, Mr. Gimenez directed county jails to “fully cooperate” with Mr. Trump’s directive. The order targeted what are known as sanctuary cities and counties, which generally do not comply with federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants who have been arrested on unrelated charges until immigration officers can get them. In response to Mr. Trump’s order, Mr. Gimenez directed county jails to detain people who were flagged by immigration authorities as possible illegal immigrants for 48 hours.
Miami-Dade had all but stopped honoring these requests since 2014 after the county commission demanded that the federal government reimburse the county for added detention costs, which in 2012 reached $650,000. That 2014 shift away from honoring detainment requests landed the county on the Obama administration’s list of sanctuary cities, according to Mr. Gimenez.
For the mayor, a Republican who said before the presidential election he would vote for Hillary Clinton, the move boiled down to a pocketbook issue — the potential loss of as much as $355 million a year in federal grant money. In his executive order, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold discretionary federal funds from cities that do not comply. Mr. Gimenez has disavowed the sanctuary city label, an amorphous, highly politicized term.
“We never consented to be a sanctuary city,” Mr. Gimenez said. “I think people are overreacting; this takes Miami Dade County back to the same spot it was in in December 2013.”
As for the federal dollars, “It’s quite a bit of money,” he said, adding, that the sum is worth protecting.
Miami-Dade County is not alone in wrestling with the policy. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has taken a page from Mr. Trump’s playbook and has denied the Travis County sheriff, Sally Hernandez, $1.5 million in funds for declining to comply with federal immigration detainer requests, a position he called “reckless” and “dangerous.” Sheriff Hernandez, a Democrat elected in November, said last week that she would not honor the requests unless the person was arrested on a serious felony, like capital murder, or human smuggling.
In St. Paul, the county sheriff faces pressure from Republicans to abide by the detention request. And two Republican members of Congress from Pennsylvania have introduced bills to carry out Mr. Trump’s order by withholding community development grants from sanctuary cities.
Many other sanctuary cities and counties with large numbers of immigrants, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston, have chosen not to cooperate with the presidential dictate.
In choosing to honor the detainer requests, Mr. Gimenez now faces a possible county commission vote on the issue next week and could be courting a flurry of expensive lawsuits, legal experts said. Several courts around the country have found the detention policy unconstitutional because people can only be detained for extended periods with permission from the courts.
“Multiple court decisions found that holding anyone for any amount of time longer than normal did not meet constitutional standards,” said Lena Graber, special projects attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco. “The Miami-Dade mayor’s decision is on really thin constitutional ground.”
Complicating matters is that not everyone who is flagged for detention are necessarily illegal immigrants; some are naturalized citizens, Ms. Graber said.
Many in Miami worry that Mr. Trump’s order could lead to increased collaboration between the local police and immigration officials, something that immigration activists say could discourage immigrants from reporting crimes or sharing information.
The order revives a program to deputize local law enforcement to act as immigration officers on the street, a role that Miami-Dade rejects. In 2009, dozens of police and sheriff departments around the country took part in the program, which ran into legal trouble in some places, most notably in Phoenix, when officers began conducting traffic patrols to try to nab illegal immigrants. Typically, most law enforcement officers, including in Miami-Dade, do not meddle in immigration matters or ask a person’s immigration status either on the streets or in jails.
Mayor Gimenez said the county would not move in that direction. “We’ve never said we won’t cooperate with immigration officials,” the mayor said. ”But we won’t become immigration officers.”
Miami-Dade never completely stopped honoring detainer requests. Before 2014, it made a habit of detaining people flagged by the agency until the authorities could collect them, sometimes even beyond 48 hours. In 2012, the immigration agency issued 2,499 detainers on suspects who might have been in the country illegally. More than 61 percent of those were for people who were not jailed for felonies, according to a Miami-Dade County resolution.
Opponents of Mr. Gimenez’s new directive said the mayor has lost sight of the big picture. The federal government cannot require local communities to become part of the federal immigration force, they said.
“You don’t detain people in jail just on the request of federal law enforcement officials — that may be what they do in authoritarian countries,” said Howard Simon, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “Our mayor has made himself, and Miami-Dade County, the poster child for Trump’s deportation plans.”