Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez caused eyes to bulge and heads to explode in 2017 when he issued an order requiring county jails to detain undocumented immigrants on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The decision, which effectively stripped the county's status as a sanctuary for undocumented residents, came in response to President Donald Trump's executive order threatening to withhold federal funding from municipalities that don't cooperate with federal immigration officials.
Immigrant-rights activists and scores of county residents came out in furious opposition to the mayor's order and the county commission's subsequent vote upholding it.
The policy sent anti-immigrant messaging locally and nationally, said former county mayor and current mayoral hopeful Alex Penelas during a virtual town hall on immigration last night. Penelas said Miami-Dade should use its "massive resources" to lobby for more pro-immigrant policies.
"I want to bring back an immigrant-friendly community," he said.
Penelas and two other candidates for Miami-Dade mayor, county commissioners Daniella Levine Cava and Xavier Suarez, took questions from residents and immigrant-rights groups about where they stand on issues such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS), paths to citizenship for Dreamers, county IDs for undocumented immigrants, the treatment of immigrants in ICE detention, cooperation with ICE, and workplace protections for essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Levine Cava and Suarez were two of the three commissioners who voted against Gimenez's order in 2017. Levine Cava said she thought the policy was unconstitutional and wrong and that she would work to reverse it. She noted that police in Miami-Dade "are not part of ICE enforcement in any way" but that if someone is jailed and federal immigration authorities want to pick them up, Miami-Dade jails can hold them for up to 48 hours for ICE.
Similarly, Levine Cava said she would challenge a Florida law on federal immigration enforcement that bans sanctuary cities and requires local governments and police departments to "support the enforcement of federal immigration law."
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"I fought against that law," Levine Cava said. "I think it's overreach and a pre-emption on how we take care of our people."
All of the participating candidates said they would support a program that provides county IDs to undocumented immigrants, which is in the works. Levine Cava said there have been issues with undocumented county residents being restricted from COVID-19 testing because they lack identification. Penelas said he was on board with an ID program so the undocumented "can be productive and contribute to the community."
Suarez said his decades of experience in office and his relationships with other politicians on both sides would ensure he gets things done.
Representatives from United We Dream, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Florida Immigrant Coalition, the groups that organized the forum, asked the candidates to commit to a list of five demands on behalf of the immigrant community: ending the enforcement of ICE detainers, providing community IDs, reducing arrests countywide, ending contracts with ICE detention centers, and prohibiting discrimination against immigrant families. Levine Cava, Penelas, and Suarez all said they supported the demands.