Miami-Dade County Hall went on lockdown this afternoon as a group gathered outside to protest Mayor Carlos Gimenez's order to county officials to comply with all of President Donald Trump's strict immigration plans. Guards blocked the doors. The Metromover stop was closed. And then U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison crashed the party.
The co-chair of the Democratic Progressive Caucus was briefly barred from County Hall before he eventually made his way in to meet with the mayor. A swarm of reporters followed him, but Gimenez never appeared — he was reportedly out of town the day after erasing Miami-Dade's status as a sanctuary city in the face of Trump's threats to ax federal funding.
Instead, a Gimenez spokesperson spent an hour fielding questions and insisting the mayor's decision does not amount to him abandoning the hundreds of thousands of immigrants in Miami-Dade County.
"It has never been our policy to be a sanctuary city," Michael Hernandez, the mayor's spokesperson, says. "When we keep hearing we were a sanctuary city to begin with, we disputed that. Miami-Dade County never believed itself to be a sanctuary community."
Gimenez's rocky 24 hours began yesterday when he ordered corrections staff to "honor all immigration detainer requests received from the Department of Homeland Security."
That reversed a change made by county commissioners in 2013, when they voted to stop holding people wanted for immigration violations for up to 48 extra hours. The commission made the move because the feds wouldn't reimburse the county for that extra detention time.
That move landed Miami-Dade on a list of "sanctuary cities," metropolises that resist federal immigration enforcement to varying degrees. Gimenez's move ends any Miami-Dade association with that list — and promptly drew strong outrage from activists and citizens, many of whom noted that Gimenez himself is an immigrant born in Havana, Cuba.
“Mayor Gimenez, shame on you. Criminalizing mothers and fathers and tías and tíos and teenagers and children. This is totally un-American," Monica Russo, president of SEIU Florida, said in a statement. “More than half of the population of Miami-Dade was born outside of the United States, including you, Mayor Gimenez. Miami is an immigrant city. Period.”
Ellison's appearance at County Hall today shows how much Gimenez's move resonated nationally. It came as mayors in cities such as Seattle and Boston strongly rebuked Trump and insisted they would continue protecting immigrants.
But Hernandez insisted Gimenez had no choice but to comply with Trump's orders — especially with millions of dollars in federal funding on the line.
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"We are a metropolitan government servicing 2.7 million residents," Hernandez says. "It is the duty of the federal government to approve immigration laws... We sympathize with immigrants. We are a community of immigrants. But we all say the same oath to uphold the Constitution."
Outside County Hall, protesters waved signs and chanted, but the county didn't make it easy on them to do so. Streets were closed, police presence was heavy, and even public transit such as Metromover was closed in a heavy-handed response to the dissent.
Of course, Gimenez has his supporters, including the president himself, who tweeted this morning that the mayor was "strong" by making his move.