Carlos Gimenez, the Republican mayor of Miami-Dade County, sent a memo to the county’s corrections director Thursday ordering county jails to comply with federal immigration detention requests, essentially abandoning the county’s status as a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants. The county, recently listed as a sanctuary by the Department of Justice, is perhaps among the first municipalities to move to change its practices after Trump signed the executive order.
“In light of the provisions of the Executive Order, I direct you and your staff to honor all immigration detainer requests received from the Department of Homeland Security,” Gimenez wrote in the brief memo.
The notion of a “sanctuary” varies across the country. Some communities instruct local police not to ask about immigration status, while others, like New York City, go further — issuing identification cards to undocumented immigrants. Still, many so-called sanctuaries simply refuse to comply with the federal government when it asks the community to hold an undocumented immigrant already in custody until federal officials can start deportation proceedings. This designation is an informal one, and is not exclusive to liberal bastions aiming to appeal to immigrant communities. In fact, a number of the country’s “sanctuaries” exist in conservative areas, The Washington Post reported.
Before Thursday, Miami-Dade was considered one of these de facto “sanctuary” communities. The county’s policy was to only hold detainees if federal immigration officials agreed to reimburse the county for the detention costs — a condition set in a 2013 resolution. This practice put the county on a list of sanctuary cities in a Department of Justice report in May, prompting county officials to push back against the label.
Foreseeing Trump’s crackdown on “sanctuary” jurisdictions, the county asked the feds to review its status last year, and a decision is still pending. In a tweet Thursday, the mayor’s spokesman, Mike Hernández, said Miami-Dade County “does not consider itself a sanctuary community.”
The county’s decision to refuse detainer requests was largely a financial one, Gimenez, who attended Trump’s inauguration but voted for Hillary Clinton, told the Miami Herald. Last year, the county declined to hold some 100 inmates wanted by federal authorities. Detaining them in local jails would have cost about $52,000 — out of the county’s total annual budget of $7 billion.
The county turned over about 180 people to immigration officials in 2016 but was not reimbursed for any costs, the Associated Press reported. It costs the county about $200 to hold a person for a day.
“I want to make sure we don’t put in jeopardy the millions of funds we get from the federal government for a $52,000 issue,” Gimenez told the Miami Herald. The county expects to receive some $355 million in federal funds, according to its 2017 budget. “It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be arresting more people,” Gimenez added. “It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be enforcing any immigration laws.”
In a tweet Thursday night, Trump praised the mayor’s order, saying, “Miami-Dade Mayor drops sanctuary policy. Right decision. Strong!”
The mayor’s decision is a significant one, considering Miami-Dade is the county with the second highest number of immigrants in the country, with more than 1.3 million, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Nearly half of these immigrants are Cubans, who, until former president Barack Obama’s recent policy change, were granted a special immigration status essentially allowing them to stay upon reaching the country. The Miami-Dade mayor is himself a Cuban immigrant, born in Havana.
Compared to many Latino and immigrant communities across the country, Cuban Americans in Florida have voted fairly Republican, particularly in the most recent national election. In exit polls from the 2016 election, CNN and Latino Decisions found Trump claiming 52 percent and 54 percent of the Florida Cuban American vote — compared to the 47 percent support for Romney in 2012.
“The Cuban-American community in Miami won the state of Florida for Trump,” Miami lawyer Tom Spencer, a Republican who worked for the campaign during early voting and on Election Day, told the Miami Herald.
Still, immigrant rights activists say, Miami — and the state of Florida as a whole — has long been known for its diverse immigrant community. Miami-Dade, coupled with its neighboring Monroe County, is also the region with the 11th highest number of unauthorized immigrants in the nation. It is home to 151,000 unauthorized immigrants, primarily from Central America, Mexico and South America, according to 2010-2014 estimates from the Migration Policy Institute.
The Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a statement it was “disappointed” with the mayor’s move, saying policies like the one embraced by Gimenez “serve only to drive a wedge of distrust between law enforcement and our immigrant community.”
“At the very least, a warrant from a court, not merely a request from a federal official, is required to detain somebody in jail. We will resist every attempt by our government to punish immigrants, regardless of their status,” the group’s executive director, Howard Simon, said in the statement. “Today’s decision by Mayor Gimenez flies in the face of Miami’s long history as a city of immigrants.”
Speaking Wednesday at the Department of Homeland Security, Trump said sanctuary cities cause “immeasurable harm” to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic by refusing to help the federal government identify and deport undocumented residents. In his order, he directed the Department of Homeland Security to examine ways to limit “federal funds, except as mandated by law” to sanctuary cities.
Across the country — from Chicago to San Francisco to smaller municipalities — city mayors voiced defiance in the face of Trump’s threats. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the District would remain a sanctuary city, even as she said the impact to the city remained unclear. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he would use all city resources to protect the city’s undocumented immigrants “even if that means using City Hall itself as a last resort.”
In a news conference Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said the executive order was written in “a very vague fashion,” and New York City had solid ground to pursue a legal challenge to the executive order, “should the occasion arise and be necessary.”
“New York has always been a city of immigrants,” de Blasio tweeted Thursday. “The president’s executive order doesn’t change that.”
Many of those in the Miami area and beyond expressed outrage on Twitter in response to Gimenez’s decision, while others commended the mayor, claiming his compliance was indication that “President Trump’s #SantuaryCities policy is working.”