MIAMI — On Miami’s famed Calle Ocho, where white-haired Cuban exiles play dominoes on crowded tables outdoors, everyone speaks Spanish and few fear getting deported from the United States.
Least of all Francisco Perez, a 75-year-old retired taxi driver who strolled down the street one recent day sporting a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap to support President Trump, even his plans to expel undocumented immigrants.
“I can’t support illegality,” Perez, a naturalized U.S. citizen, said in Spanish.
This unofficial capital of Latin America has welcomed immigrants for decades — including thousands from Cuba who illegally washed up on shore — but Miami is not a sanctuary anymore.
After Trump threatened in January to strip federal money from cities that refuse to help deport immigrants, Miami-Dade County was the first to retreat. The mayor halted the policy, the council made it official, and now stunned advocates in a county where 51.7 percent of the residents are immigrants are considering their next move.
“People are really angry,” said María Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “People in Miami-Dade are outraged that we would buckle so quickly to the administration’s intimidation.”
Across the country, in city halls and statehouses, elected leaders are debating whether to follow Miami-Dade’s lead. Emotions are rippling across more than 100 other sanctuary communities as they weigh whether to defend policies that shield undocumented immigrants and other noncitizens from deportation — including those who have been arrested for crimes — or risk losing their share of $4.1 billion in Justice Department grants this year.
Several cities already have filed lawsuits to defend their policies, while 32 states are debating legislation that would ban sanctuary cities or expand them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
On Monday, Hyattsville, Md., officially barred police from detaining immigrants for deportation agents, the latest in a string of legal maneuvers in recent weeks. Virginia’s governor vetoed a measure to outlaw sanctuary cities, Mississippi barred them, and California’s Senate passed a bill to forbid state and local police from jailing immigrants for deportation. In Maryland, the Democratic Senate president refused to consider a pro-sanctuary bill after police arrested two undocumented immigrants and charged them with raping a 14-year-old girl in Rockville.
The Trump administration has not defined “sanctuary,” but in general, these communities refuse to detain immigrants who have been arrested for local crimes beyond their release dates so U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can pick them up and try to deport them.
In a January executive order, Trump said sanctuary cities violate federal law and endanger communities by releasing noncitizens with criminal records, including some who allegedly reoffended. He has often raised the case of Kate Steinle, a San Francisco woman allegedly killed by a man who came to the United States from Mexico illegally.
But sanctuary cities say detaining someone after a judge has released them could expose local jails to lawsuits. And they say it is dangerous for police to collaborate with federal immigration agents because it frightens immigrants away from reporting crime. Houston and Los Angeles police recently noted a drop in reports from Latinos of sexual assaults and other crimes.
“This is going to have to be decided by the Supreme Court, and I think that the administration is ready to do that,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors limits on immigration.
In Miami-Dade, home to 2.7 million people, advocates say the fight is not over. An estimated 150,000 people in Miami-Dade and neighboring Monroe County are undocumented, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Cubans, the largest immigrant group, for the most part are here legally. But this year, President Barack Obama ended a special status that let them stay in the United States if they arrived illegally.
Carlos A. Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade, says he sees the issue from all sides as a Cuban-born Republican who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election and whose son was a lobbyist for one of Trump’s Florida resorts.
Gimenez said he wants Congress to pass a bill so that otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants in the United States — some 11 million people — can apply for legal residency.
But he said he never intended for Miami-Dade to shelter criminals from deportation.
Gimenez said Miami-Dade limited its cooperation with immigration officials in 2013 because the county had spent more than $1.6 million to detain immigrants. Back then, the county voted to hold only serious criminals for immigration agents and only if the U.S. government paid for it.
“Hindsight being 20/20, I think that probably was a mistake,” Gimenez said in an interview earlier this month. “We should have never altered that policy.”
The Obama administration had also threatened to withhold federal funding over the county’s refusal to cooperate, but the mayor said he did not take the threat seriously until Trump was elected.
Gimenez halted the policy in January, and the next month, the county voted to make it official. Since then, he said, immigration enforcement has asked the county to detain about 176 people, including immigrants arrested for kidnapping, first-degree murder and sexually assaulting a child. Minor offenders are often ticketed and released, so, he said, they generally are not placed on ICE’s radar.
“If you look at some of these charges, they’re pretty serious,” he said, adding that his approval rating rose after the vote to 71 percent. “If you’re a law-abiding citizen and you’re in Miami-Dade County, you have nothing to fear from the Miami-Dade Police Department,” he added. “That’s the best that we can do.”