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Breaking down Mayor Gimenez’s sanctuary cities decision

In Miami, a city of immigrants, many are feeling betrayed by their mayor.

On Wednesday, President Trump signed an executive order saying he’d crack down on sanctuary cities and cut funding to places that don’t comply with federal immigration laws.

The next day, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told county jails to comply with the detention requests of federal immigration officials —  a move that says, very clearly, “we’re not a sanctuary.”

Until now, the County wouldn’t hold undocumented immigrants in jail indefinitely if they haven’t committed a crime, explained Michael Murray, a Miami-based immigration attorney.

Now, with Gimenez’s order, the county jail may start holding onto people until immigration officials come get them, he explained.

It’s a fairly narrow change, but it’s a slap in the face to many in immigrant-majority Miami – and it puts us on a slippery slope as far as immigration enforcement goes.

On Friday, those opposed deluged Gimenez’s office with phone calls and e-mails and almost 100 protesters demonstrated outside (because the mayor’s office barred all but a couple protesters from entering the building). U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison was in town, so he joined the action. 

What did Trump’s executive order say?

In short: if you’re a city or county that offers a safe space for undocumented immigrants by not cooperating with federal immigration agencies when it comes to finding and detaining them — you’re not going to get federal money.

Right now, Miami-Dade is banking on getting $355 million in 2017 in federal funds, which pays for things like police officers and other government services. Losing that would be a BFD.

Here’s the full text if you’re interested. This is the main part:

Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.  These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic. …

…. (c)  Ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law.

Is Miami a sanctuary city?

Hard to say. There’s no legal definition, but sanctuary cities are places that protect undocumented immigrants either by enacting explicit policies or just by not complying with federal immigration requests.

Miami-Dade County hasn’t ever said it’s a sanctuary, according to the Miami Herald. (Other cities like San Francisco and Chicago have said, “yes we are a sanctuary.”)

But despite saying it’s not, Miami-Dade County hasn’t, until now, detained undocumented immigrants indefinitely, even if the feds ask them to.

That’s not to protect them, Gimenez says. It’s mostly financial. Last year it would have cost the county $69,000 to detain everyone the feds wanted them to, the Herald reported.

Even though the county didn’t consider itself a sanctuary, the Justice Department did. In a May 2016 report, the Justice Department said, “yup if you walk like it, talk like it, and look like it — you’re a sanctuary.”

Here’s a map of all sanctuary cities.

Where does Miami-Dade County stand now?

Officially, the same as before, but now the mayor is more boldly saying “we’re not a sanctuary city. The big change is that we’re going to comply with federal immigration requests all the time now — which probs means more people will be detained than before.

How bad could this get?

The slippery slope is that a simple traffic offense like driving without a license — which many undocumented people do because they can’t legally get one — would be considered a criminal offense.

Then you’d get booked and sit in a county jail indefinitely until an immigration official comes and deports you, Murray explained.

“This is a big net to catch people who aren’t criminals they’re just undocumented,” he says.

What can actually be defunded legally?

A lot of funding goes through Congress so, it’s unlikely that the President can cut off all of it himself, according to CNN.

But there are loads of grants that states get that help out with everything from agriculture to transportation improvements that are on the line. Grants are more likely to be affected by an order like this because they don’t go through Congress, they go straight through a federal agency.

But there’s a caveat: In the past, courts have ruled that a violation of a policy can only affect funds related to that policy. So, a violation of a prison policy shouldn’t be able to have an impact on agriculture funding, for example.

Last year, Miami-Dade got $10,778,815 in federal grants from the Justice Department.

How many undocumented immigrants live in Miami?

There are roughly 151,000 undocumented people in Miami-Dade County, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute using Census data from 2014.

How much will it cost to actually enforce this policy?

We know last year that not detaining everyone the feds requested saved Miami-Dade $69,000 — so at minimum, $69,000. The flipside is that if the county doesn’t comply, it could potentially lose millions.

Also, the executive order also approved hiring 10,000 more immigration officers around the country (and they make an average salary of between $27,000 and $53,000 annually — so nationally that’s somewhere between $270 million and $530 million for their salaries).

  • Michael C Fernandez

    How is driving without a license a slippery slope? It’s illegal. The law doesn’t discriminate on whether you are a citizen or not. Driving without a license is a second degree misdemeanor and punishable with jail time. I get that our immigration system has to be overhauled, but the logic that says these people aren’t doing something illegal is silly.