Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam wanted to be the Democrats' next Pete Buttigieg — a long-shot, small-town mayor who could quote-unquote "tell it like it is" and talk his way into becoming president. But Messam's bid is failing horribly: He's polling at essentially zero percent, and he's been shut out of every televised Democratic debate this year. For some reason, he refuses to just drop out.
But while he's busy trying to raise his national profile, activists in his own town say he's neglecting to do some basic mayoral work in the meantime. Namely, Messam promised a group of Immigration and Customs Enforcement protesters he'd show up to their weekly post outside the ICE office in Miramar, but he's never actually done that, despite the fact that the oft-criticized ICE office sits just four miles from City Hall.
At the end of June, Messam posted on Facebook that he planned to visit protesters at the facility. Two of those protesters who spoke to New Times say they genuinely believed Messam was going to show up that day. Then, he simply didn't.
"He never showed up," Miami immigrant-rights activist Maria Asuncion Bilbao told New Times yesterday. "We are exploring, with lawyers, what things the City of Miramar can really do. But he says he cannot do anything. I think he can do more, but he's never shown up."
Via email, Messam confirmed that he did indeed skip out on the planned meeting earlier this summer. But he claimed he had a reason: He was working on some sort of legal-defense plan for immigrants at the facility, and says it wasn't ready to be revealed in time. So he never showed up. He told New Times:
"I had planned to visit the Miramar ICE facility as you saw on my social media post. On that day I had planned to announce an initiative that I have been working on over the past few months to assist individuals who must check in at the Miramar ICE Facility as a result of meeting with the leadership of activists. The initiative I am working on is to provide Legal Services for the individuals who may need help. This initiative is still in formation and was not ready to be presented on the day I said I would come.
Because I have not formally announced this upcoming initiative, I did not share the details on social media. What is in place is a location in Miramar has been identified to have confidential consultations. I am in communication with a couple of BAR Associations to provide Pro Bono services, which is the missing piece. I commend [the] organizers for their tireless work to assist immigrants who are subjected to horrible conditions to wait for their appointments.
You should know that the city of Miramar led the effort with the activists to bring our Congressional Delegation to Miramar to meet with ICE. Those meetings resulted in the construction of additional parking, Tents, better access to facilities and restrooms than before. Although, I am not satisfied with the progress, I and the city continue to seek ways to improve conditions that are beyond our control as a local municipality."
The ICE facility in Messam's hometown has been the subject of controversy, criticism, and protests essentially since Donald Trump became president. The facility is the main ICE check-in for immigrants across South Florida, and immigrants routinely say they're forced to arrive in the predawn hours and stand in a penned-in line for an entire day before they're called for their appointments. Photos show that many areas of the line lack basic shelter from the sun, rain, or other elements. Immigrants in the past have complained about access to water, food, and bathrooms. Activists show up weekly to hand out supplies to the people waiting in line, but security officials have repeatedly been filmed threatening to arrest people simply trying to give water to immigrants. In 2018, New Times reported that there were not enough parking spots at the facility to fit all the cars and that someone — potentially ICE itself — had called a tow-truck company to haul away cars parked illegally.
Activists also say ICE uses the facility to conduct "silent raids," in which people show up for routine ICE check-ins but are apprehended without warning, whisked to a detention center, and deported.
Messam has repeatedly claimed he'd like to do something about the conditions at the facility. But so far, he appears to have accomplished little, minus passing a resolution last year verbally scolding ICE for the conditions at the office. But the activists who actually show up to the Circle of Protection weekly say Messam should be focusing a bit less on his all-but-doomed presidential bid and a bit more on one of the biggest issues in his own backyard.
Bilbao, for example, says a different Miramar lawmaker, state Rep. Cindy Polo, has sent her own representatives to the Circle of Protection for the last three weeks.
"He always says he cannot do anything," Bilbao says. "But Cindy Polo is sending people to be part of the Circle of Protection every week. He could at least do that."
State Elected Officials were at the ICE offices in #Miramar, along with the Miramar Circle Of Protection, distributing water and know your rights materials to the families bearing the heat and the uncaring impositions by #ICE— Maria asuncion (@Mariabil) July 18, 2019
This is what leadership looks like #CloseTheCamps pic.twitter.com/GpwIEvk8LZ
Other activists have lambasted Messam online for failing to show up to a site just four miles from his mayoral office.
"You are a fraud, Wayne Messam," regular Circle of Protection attendee Laurie Woodward Garcia wrote on Messam's Facebook page yesterday. "I want desperately to support my mayor, a person of color leading on progressive issues running for president, but sadly, you are only an opportunist who has ignored your own community."
This is, frankly, far from the only controversy dogging Messam's ill-fated presidential bid. New Times has previously reported that Messam supported an accused sexual harasser in Miramar; that his campaign missed payroll earlier this year, leading to chaos among his campaign staff; and that Messam himself has a long history of financial issues, liens, and lawsuits.
"Wayne Messam does not have any financial problems and is a classic American Success Story," Messam then emailed New Times — in the third person.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.