Miami-Dade Obeyed Trump on Immigration. Chicago Didn't. Both Just Got $3M Police Grants.

by | November 21, 2017

By Douglas Hanks

Miami-Dade and Chicago sit on opposite sides of the debate over sanctuary cities under President Donald Trump: The largest government in South Florida won praise from the president himself for agreeing to detain immigration violators at local jails, while the Windy City is suing the Trump administration to preserve its "sanctuary" status.

On Monday, that didn't seem to matter when Trump's Justice Department announced $98 million in federal grants to subsidize local police salaries. Both Chicago and Miami-Dade received the same $3.125 million as they did last year under Barack Obama's Justice Department.

Federal funding was at the heart of Mayor Carlos Gimenez's announcement days after Trump took office that Miami-Dade would comply with White House demands that county jails extend detentions of inmates set to be released on local charges while being sought for deportation. While Miami-Dade had previously rejected federal "detainer" requests under the Obama administration, Gimenez on Jan. 26 ordered county jails to begin honoring them.

A Justice spokesman on Monday cautioned against using the "COPS" grants announcement as a scorecard on compliance with detainer policy.

"Today's grant announcement has nothing to do with detainer requests," spokesman Devin O'Malley wrote in an email. Local governments applying for the grants "received additional points in the application scoring process if their agencies cooperate with federal law enforcement to address illegal immigration, ensuring that federal immigration authorities have the full ability to enforce immigration laws and keep our communities safe."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has pledged to use law-enforcement grants as a way to persuade local and state governments to comply with White House policy on the detention requests, which give immigration officers 48 hours to pick up an inmate who otherwise would be free to go. In September, Sessions announced that jurisdictions seeking COPS grants would receive additional points in the competition for funds if they gave immigration officers access to jails and gave federal authorities at least 48 hours before an "illegal alien" was released from custody.

By honoring detention requests, Miami-Dade provides the 48-hour notice. O'Malley said Miami-Dade received additional points in its 2017 COPS application, but he did not explain why the allocation was the same as in 2016. In budget documents, Miami-Dade says it uses the federal money to fund about half of the payroll costs for 25 county police officers over three years in the 4,000-person agency.

O'Malley noted Chicago, Miami-Dade and other jurisdictions are judged on a string of criteria for the COPS grants, with the new category of cooperation on immigration matters just a part of the overall scoring matrix. He said Miami-Dade "was rewarded" for cooperation in the scoring, but that the result didn't impact the amount of money awarded.

O'Malley declined to elaborate on Chicago's scoring. Led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, the city is suing to block the Trump administration from denying federal funds over Chicago's refusal to provide 48-hours notice for the release of potential immigration offenders and for not granting jail access to immigration authorities.

In an August speech in Miami, Sessions rebuked Chicago for plans to sue over immigration cooperation while praising Gimenez and Miami-Dade's policy and promising "more money for crime fighting."

Michael Hernández, Miami-Dade's communications director, noted Miami-Dade recently received $500,000 from the Justice Department's Byrne Grant program, while other jurisdictions are complaining that their Byrne dollars haven't arrived. Last month, the Justice Department warned Chicago it was not in compliance with Byrne grant rules.

"Mayor Gimenez strongly believes it was within Miami-Dade County government's best interests to comply with federal law and not be considered a sanctuary community," Hernández said. "We still do feel [noncompliance] could jeopardize future federal grant opportunities."

Hernández noted Miami-Dade was first labeled a "sanctuary" jurisdiction under the Obama administration and that Gimenez was eager to get the county off that list well before Trump came into office. Gimenez, a Republican who backed Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, has twice been praised in a Trump tweet for Miami-Dade's detention-request change. Hernández said it's wrong to see the situation in partisan terms.

"This president ran on a platform of getting tough and cracking down on sanctuary cities," but Miami-Dade's effort to be declared in compliance with federal policy "dates back to the Obama administration," Hernández said. "There are folks who want to make this a partisan balloon. It's not."

(c)2017 Miami Herald