BY DOUGLAS HANKS.
Miami-Dade jails turned over an average of one immigration detainee per day to federal authorities during 2017, a pace set by the county’s controversial decision to comply with President Donald Trump’s crackdown on people being sought for deportation.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered county jails to comply with the federal detention requests days after Trump took office on Jan. 20 and promised to withhold federal funds from local governments providing “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants. Miami-Dade had previously declined the requests under a county policy enacted four years earlier.
Gimenez’s directive brought instant praise from Trump himself on Twitter, but from elsewhere, accusations that Miami-Dade was abandoning its tradition as one of the most welcoming cities in the country for immigrants.
Since Gimenez’s Jan. 26 policy change, Miami-Dade jails have turned over 436 people — a little more than one person a day on average — to agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a year-end tally by the county released Tuesday. Federal “detainer” requests ask jails to hold suspected immigration offenders for an additional 48 hours after they have been booked on unrelated local charges. A detainer kicks in once the person would otherwise be free to leave the local jail, either through posting bail, being released until trial or after serving a sentence.
Local charges that landed undocumented people on the federal deportation track include a mix of serious crimes and minor offenses, according to a summary by Miami-Dade’s Corrections and Rehabilitation Department.
More than 100 detainees are listed as being arrested for violent crimes, from simple battery to kidnapping and attempted murder. A sampling of other offenses: about 30 who were in custody for driving without a valid driver’s license; about three dozen people charged with drug possession; two people charged with loitering; and seven, with misdemeanors related to drinking in public.
“It’s made people go back into the shadows,” said Rebeca Sanchez-Roig, a Miami immigration lawyer who said she sees clients far more fearful of county and city police. “Very often they won’t report a crime or violence. Because they’re afraid they will be turned into Immigration. We have endangered communities with this policy.”
A spokesman for Gimenez, a Republican mayor who backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, said it’s wrong to link the county to the fate of people sought by immigration authorities.
“Miami-Dade County is not the agency placing a detainer request for individuals held in its jails, nor does the county determine what offenses merit deportation,” said Michael Hernández, Gimenez’s communications director. “Judges and federal law enforcement agencies oversee immigration laws, including whether any individual should be deported, not Mayor Gimenez or Miami-Dade County government. Miami-Dade County is simply honoring detainer requests for up to 48 hours.”
Thomas Byrd, an ICE spokesman in New Orleans, said the criminal background of an immigration violator can influence where the person lands after being picked up at a local jail.
“Whether we hold them or release them with an ankle bracelet or just give them a notice to appear [in court] — the severity of the charges can be a factor,” he said. “If you’ve got a mother of five arrested for shoplifting, the chances of us holding her for an extended period of time is very slim.”
“Our focus is primarily on the criminal aliens,” Byrd said. “However, the president has made it clear in the executive orders that no one in any category who is in this country illegally is exempt from deportation.”
Miami-Dade commissioners endorsed Gimenez’s policy change on Feb. 17 in a 9-3 vote, officially reversing a 2013 decision that, at the time, halted the county’s practice of holding people for immigration authorities. Before 2013, Miami-Dade did honor the detainer requests, prompting complaints from county leaders about unreimbursed costs and pressure from immigration advocates to stop cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
In December 2013, the commission unanimously approved a resolution criticizing “blanket compliance” with immigration authorities and instructing county jails to honor detainer requests only for people facing serious criminal charges. Even then, the detainer requests were to be honored only if Washington agreed to cover the cost of the extra detention time in advance. That requirement effectively ended Miami-Dade’s past practice of holding people for immigration authorities, since the federal government regularly declined to cover expenses in advance.
Between 2013 and 2017, Miami-Dade would inform immigration authorities when someone sought for deportation was being released on local charges but would not hold him or her for an extra 48 hours. Declining to honor the 48-hour requests placed Miami-Dade on a list of “sanctuary” jurisdictions compiled by the Obama administration in 2016.
Representatives of the mayor’s office and Corrections could not say Tuesday whether Miami-Dade has asked the Trump administration to reimburse detention expenses under the 2017 policy of honoring all detainer requests., or how much the county was spending on the extra jail time. A Corrections spokesman, Juan Diasgranados, said holding someone for immigration authorities costs the county about $200 a day.
Between Jan. 27 and Dec. 28, the range covered in the county’s tally on detention requests, Miami-Dade received 966 detainers. Of those requests, 201 were for people who remain in county custody on the original local charges not related to immigration offenses. Another 329 requests were either canceled by immigration authorities or the people weren’t picked up by immigration agents within the 48-hour window covered by the detainers, leaving the suspected immigration offenders free to go.
If each of the 436 people turned over to immigration authorities were held for an additional 48 hours before the transfer, the new county policy would have cost Miami-Dade about $175,000 in 2017. Corrections, one of the largest agencies in Miami-Dade government, costs about $350 million a year to run, with most of the money coming from property taxes.