Miami-Dade Mayor Resists Sanctuary City Label

by | November 16, 2016

By Douglas Hanks

With President-elect Donald Trump promising to crack down on "sanctuary cities" that aren't helping federal authorities apprehend undocumented immigrants, some mayors warn they're ready to do battle with Washington on the issue.

In Miami-Dade, Mayor Carlos Gimenez argues there is no battle line to be drawn because the label doesn't apply to his county.

"We comply with the law," Gimenez said Tuesday. "We're not a sanctuary city."

Miami-Dade does decline some federal requests to detain individuals wanted for non-criminal immigration violations, a policy that helped land Florida's largest county on a list of so-called sanctuary cities in a recent Justice Department report. And while Miami-Dade has already felt pressure under the Obama administration to fight the "sanctuary" label, the designation is getting far more attention after Trump's upset win last week.

Trump campaigned on a promise to punish sanctuary cities, and his administration's transition website lists "block funding for sanctuary cities" as a top policy goal of his immigration plan. Days after Trump's election, New York City's Democratic mayor, Bill de Blasio, called Trump's sanctuary-city policy "dangerous." The mayor of Los Angeles, Democrat Eric Garcetti, said he hoped "no president" would take "punitive action on cities that are simply protecting the well being of residents."

Gimenez, a Republican who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race, noted Miami-Dade's 2013 policy, adopted by the County Commission, does allow the county's jail to hold undocumented immigrants at the request of federal authorities. But the person will be held only if Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- the agency known as ICE -- agrees to cover the full cost.

Since Washington won't pick up what the county deems the total cost of detention, the policy essentially has Miami-Dade not acting on federal requests to detain people on routine immigration infractions. County officials said the cost provision doesn't apply if the detention request is tied to a criminal infraction, or is accompanied by a court order; in those cases, Miami-Dade will detain the individual.

A May 31 report by the Justice Department's Inspector General listed Miami-Dade on a roster of 155 jurisdictions that "limit or restrict cooperation with ICE."

Michael Hernández, Gimenez's spokesman, said the administration plans a response to the May report "soon" and possibly by the end of the month. That could give the Obama Justice Department a chance to weigh in on Miami-Dade's policies before the new administration takes power.

Trump hasn't outlined what sort of funding might be at risk over the sanctuary-city issue, though bills requiring similar crackdowns have died in Congress before.

Gihan Perera, director of New Florida Majority, an activist group that focuses on immigrant rights, said Miami-Dade needs to be ready for a much more significant fight under the Trump administration. "Carlos Gimenez is going to have to make a call," Perera said. "The call he should make is not to cooperate with the federal government as they start a program to round up immigrants."

Gimenez said he's confident Miami-Dade will be left out of the fray. While some cities ban local authorities from communicating with federal immigration authorities, Gimenez said Miami-Dade shares information when someone on an ICE list enters the county's detention system.

"If there's a hit and ICE wants that individual, ICE knows we have them and they know how long we're going to have them," he said. "And they can come pick them up."

(c)2016 Miami Herald