The civic, political, and intellectual weight of yesterday's protest against Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez was huge. Political players like Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Florida's American Civil Liberties Union Director Howard Simon turned up to speak in front of roughly 300 demonstrators.
But the most poignant moment of the day came from Julio Kalde, an undocumented Honduran immigrant and activist. Tears welled in his eyes as he warned the crowd that if he is deported, he could be killed for his activism in his native country.
"Because I am an activist in Honduras, I can literally get killed if I get deported," he said, his voice quivering. He added seconds later: "What I'm saying today is, you need to reconsider what you just did."
Kalde was the last in a series of high-profile Miamians to speak out against the sitting county mayor yesterday: In addition to Rosen Gonzalez and Simon, six other prominent civic leaders, representing immigrants, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, Miami's Haitian and black communities, women, public education, and others blasted Gimenez's decision last week to comply with President Donald Trump's threatened, nativist ban on "sanctuary cities," which protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The protest exemplified the dreadful PR week Gimenez is having.
It all started last week when Trump signed an executive order threatening to pull federal funding from so-called "sanctuary cities," a legally vague term for cities that refuse to help the federal government find and deport undocumented people. Despite the fact that Trump's order was simply a threat — Trump will likely need congress to actually pull most federal money — Gimenez signed an executive order on Thursday saying his county will fully comply with Trump's new rules.
While Miami-Dade County claims it's never been a "sanctuary" county, it partially acted like one. During deportation proceedings, Homeland Security often asks local jails to detain suspected undocumented immigrants; in 2013, the County Commission said it would not indefinitely detain people unless the federal government reimbursed Dade for the cost.
Miami became the first American city to comply with Trump's (largely empty) threats. Mayors in cities including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and Philadelphia have vowed to fight Trump's order instead, and reiterated that their cities will remain havens for immigrants of any status.
But protesters have made clear multiple times this week that they no longer trust Gimenez — who himself emigrated from Cuba — to protect Miami's massive immigrant community from Trump. Multiple reports have said Trump is considering cracking down harder on immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and many members of Miami's gigantic immigrant community say they cannot trust Miami's government to protect them moving forward.
Gimenez's kowtowing then morphed into a full-on fiasco: On Friday, the day after Gimenez's order became public, a small protest broke out outside county hall. While the mayor was vacationing that day in Orlando with his granddaughter, members of his administration barricaded county hall, closed gates around public property, blocked off streets, and even closed the nearby Metromover station, in a move local lawyers have called an illegal suppression of free speech.
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the frontrunner to lead the Democratic National Committee moving forward, materialized at the protest and demanded to enter county hall. For a brief period, even Ellison was denied entry.
Then on Sunday, more than 300 protesters gathered at Miami International Airport to protest Trump's separate ban on Muslim travel and immigration. They spent a good chunk of time chanting "Gimenez! Shame on you! You are an immigrant too!" as well.
Yesterday, the protesters at County Hall demanded Gimenez rescind his order.
Former Congressman Joe Garcia, who recently lost a battle for Rep. Carlos Curbelo's seat, made one of his first public speeches since the race. After telling the crowd he was the child of refugees himself, he said he was disappointed in his decision last week.
"Today, I am here because I am as shocked as you all are," he said. "Carlos Gimenez is a friend of mine. But what Carlos Gimenez is, first and foremost, is a refugee."
Dotie Joseph, past president of the Haitian Lawyers Association, said Gimenez was helping perpetrate mistrust between immigrants, people of color, and Miami's law enforcement community.
"What this mayor fails to understand is that there's a delicate balance of safety between interaction and cooperation with the community and with law-enforcement," she said. "And when you disturb that balance, you have no safety."
Tony Lima, the executive director of SAVE, one of Miami's most prominent LGBTQ rights organizations, said that he was especially disappointed in Gimenez, since the mayor had otherwise been a champion for the city's queer community.
But the most jaw-dropping point of the day came from Simon, the ACLU director, who stressed that Gimenez never really had to make a decision on Trump's undocumented immigrant plan. He said it's going to take a long time before the government is actually ready to repeal any federal funding — if the time ever comes at all. Multiple lawsuits have been filed to strike down Trump's sanctuary city order — Simon said it's likely a federal judge puts a stop to all this before anything permanent happens. Gimenez, he said, took a huge political gamble when he had no reason to. (New Times made a similar point earlier this week.)
After the speeches wrapped up, the protests continued unabated. One activist sitting on a concrete barrier started chanting "Recall! Recall!" demanding Gimenez's ouster. The entire crowd quickly joined suit, demanding Gimenez's resignation in unison.
The mayor, however, was nowhere to be found — he'd left County Hall to conduct a slate of radio and TV interviews long before the protest began.
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