BY DOUGLAS HANKS
MIAMI – For the first time since it began extending the detentions of local inmates sought for deportation, Miami-Dade County received word from Washington that it won’t be treated as a community giving “sanctuary” to immigration violators.
An Aug. 4 letter to Mayor Carlos Gimenez from the Justice Department said “there was no evidence” Miami-Dade was out of compliance with an immigration provision of a federal police grant worth about $480,000 this year to the county.
Shortly after President Donald Trump took office promising an immigration crackdown, Gimenez reversed a 2013 county policy and ordered Miami-Dade jails to begin honoring requests by immigration officers to extend the detentions of people in local custody who are also being sought for possible deportation.
Miami-Dade is the only large jurisdiction known to have made that kind of change, which the County Commission endorsed in February.
As a result, it has been assumed Miami-Dade would be shielded from any loss of federal funds the Trump administration engineered as part of a broader effort to punish communities not cooperating on immigration detentions.
Gimenez’s change of police spared outrage from local immigration advocates, who accused the Cuban-born mayor of betraying Miami-Dade’s heritage of welcoming immigrants and advocating for the embrace of new arrivals to the country.
Despite the threats, the Trump administration has not yet announced an actual loss of federal dollars tied to local immigration policies.
On Monday, Chicago announced it was suing the Trump administration over an expected loss of federal funds over the city’s policies on immigration enforcement, which includes not honoring federal detention requests.
The detention requests typically last for 48 hours, plus holidays and weekends, and are designed to give immigration officers more time to apprehend a deportation suspect who has been arrested and held on unrelated local charges.
In April, the Trump administration sent a warning letter to Miami-Dade and eight other state or local governments warning about compliance with federal rules requiring cooperation with immigration officials.
The list mirrored a roster published in 2016 by the Obama administration of possible “sanctuary” communities, and Miami-Dade was included then because of its 2013 policy to reject detention requests unless two conditions were met: Washington had to pay for the extra detention time (which it generally will not do) and immigration authorities had to be seeking someone accused of a serious crime.
Miami-Dade responded to the Trump administration’s warning letter with a rundown of its current immigration policies, including its new policy of accepting of detention requests.
The Aug. 4 letter from Alan Hanson, an acting assistant attorney general, essentially cleared Miami-Dade of the loss of funds held out as a possibility in the first letter.
“This is good news,” said Michael Hernandez, Gimenez’s communications director.
Even so, Hernandez said Miami-Dade still wants the Trump administration to declare that Miami-Dade no longer belongs on the “sanctuary” list published by the Obama administration.
“We’d like to have formal notification that we are no longer a sanctuary community,” he said.
“That request is being made.”