Carlos Gimenez's Office Refuses to Take Calls About Sanctuary-City Ban UPDATED

Carlos Gimenez's Office Refuses to Take Calls About Sanctuary-City Ban UPDATED
Miami-Dade County Office of the Mayor
Update: The mayor's spokesperson, Michael Hernandez, says calls to Gimenez's office were occasionally being rerouted to the county's 311 call center rather than the mayor's office, thus leading to confusion between the departments. Hernandez says that he personally oversees the 311 call center and that all call operators have now been instructed to take down citizens' comments.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez's decision to honor President Donald Trump's crackdown on undocumented immigrants could affect more than 1,000 people this year, according to a Miami Herald analysis.

But if you're upset about that news, you'll have to try to reach the mayor via email. His office is now refusing to take calls related to Trump's sanctuary-city ban.

Two sources have told New Times that desk assistants in Gimenez's office declined to forward their phone calls to the mayor — and when this reporter called Gimenez's office around 4:15 p.m. yesterday and asked to leave the mayor a message, an employee said an email statement was the only option to lodge a complaint against the move.

Because Gimenez's office has received "such a high volume of calls" about the sanctuary-city order, the receptionist said, employees have been instructed to stop taking phone messages about the subject. The assistant said the mayor's office was tallying the number of calls it received regarding the order, but as of yesterday, the receptionists had been instructed to stop counting.

Gimenez's spokesperson, Michael A. Hernandez, told New Times last night that the mayor's office is investigating the situation. But because Gimenez has already been accused of violating the First Amendment once within the past eight days, the call-screening fits into a dreadful week of PR. It's difficult to see how ordering employees to ignore the complaints of constituents helps the mayor's problem.

Activist groups across the political spectrum routinely run call-in campaigns in the leadup to controversial votes or decisions. Former political operatives have long said phone calls are the best way to reach elected officials to voice opinions:
Gimenez announced his decision to comply with Trump's executive order a week and a half ago, on January 26. After Trump threatened to pull federal money from "sanctuary" cities that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, Gimenez announced the next day that he was rescinding a 2013 county rule that told jails not to comply with detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless ICE footed the bill. (Gimenez has long claimed Miami-Dade was never a "sanctuary" county.)

In the 11 days since Trump signed the order, the Herald reported, Dade jails received 27 detainer requests from ICE, putting the county on pace to detain anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 people this year. Though that number is less than the 2,000 requests the county received from ICE in 2012, a team of 48 civil rights groups, experts, and advocates said in a letter today that the number should have been zero.

Those groups, including the Florida chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center, warned that honoring ICE detentions could cost the county more money than Trump threatened to revoke — especially if people begin suing for unlawful detention.

Naturally, people have been upset about the mayor's decision, and Gimenez's administration has proven hostile toward criticism. When a protest broke out at Miami-Dade County Hall January 27, the mayor's administration locked down the building, used cops to block off roads, barred doors with wooden stakes, and even shut down the nearby Metromover station. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) showed up at the protest, and Miami-Dade County Police even temporarily blocked him from entering the mayor's office.

On January 30, a team of five lawyers wrote Gimenez a letter, claiming the lockdown had violated the First Amendment.

Over the weekend, Gimenez then attacked one prominent protester outright and then accused local labor activist Tomas Kennedy of fabricating a rumor that ICE had set up "deportation checkpoints" in Miami last week.

Now Gimenez is shoving his head even further into the sand to avoid addressing the fallout from his own decision. The County Commission will hold a meeting February 17 to discuss overturning Gimenez's move, and the ACLU is asking Miamians to call their county commissioners to voice their thoughts on the rule change.
Of course, you'll have to email Gimenez instead of calling.

This story has been updated to add comments from the mayor's spokesperson.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.