Many cities across the U.S. identify as sanctuary cities, despite President Trump's threat to withhold federal funds. Here's a closer look at what that label means. USA TODAY NETWORK
MIAMI — The Miami-Dade County Commission rejected emotional pleas from residents Friday and voted to become the first county in the nation to drop its "sanctuary" status by agreeing to fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.
The commission voted 9-3 to adopt the resolution, citing worries about President Trump's threat to withhold federal funding from communities that refuse to cooperate with federal agents seeking to deport undocumented immigrants.
The vote was particularly significant given Miami-Dade's mostly immigrant population, earning it the informal title of the capital of Latin America.
The county started down its path when Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Cuban-born immigrant, issued an order on Jan. 26, directing jail officials to honor all requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in order to shed the county's "sanctuary" label. That came one day after Trump signed an executive order threatening to crack down on "sanctuary cities."
Gimenez said his decision was a purely financial one. He doesn’t want to put at risk about $355 million a year that the county receives in federal funding.
Even so, dozens of people lashed out at Gimenez and the commission, calling his order a betrayal against residents of a county where the majority of people are foreign-born. One by one, in English and Spanish and fighting through occasional tears, Miami-Dade residents pleaded with the commission to vote down the resolution.
Attorneys challenged the legality of the mayor’s order. Human rights advocates said the order would traumatize families. Undocumented immigrants explained the fear they’re now living with. U.S.-born children whose parents have been deported asked who will raise them. And religious leaders questioned the morality of adopting a policy that punishes the county’s most vulnerable.
“It’s convenient to have (undocumented immigrants) around, yet it seems that so many of us are willing to throw them under the bus at the first hint of inconvenience,” said Frank Corbishley, an Episcopalian reverend. “Miami of all places, we of all people, should be the last ones willing to throw them under the bus.”
After the commission voted, dozens stormed out of the hearing, chanting, "Shame on you."
At issue is Trump’s executive order that prohibits federal grants going to cities and counties deemed “sanctuary jurisdictions.” That term has been used in recent years to describe more than 300 localities that have a range of policies that limit how much local authorities will cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Trump’s order defined a “sanctuary jurisdiction” as one that violates a federal law requiring local officials to share information with ICE about suspects who are detained in their jails. President Obama’s Department of Justice came to the same conclusion last year, issuing a memorandum that said all local governments must at least share information about their inmates with ICE.
Miami-Dade has always shared that kind of information with federal officials, but Gimenez’s order dealt with something else: “immigration detainers.”
When people are arrested by local police, they are booked into a local jail. Once they are finished with the local charges — either acquitted or served jail sentences — ICE agents can issue an “immigration detainer.” That is a request for the local jail to continue detaining a person for up to 48 hours if ICE believes they may also have immigration violations in their record.
In recent years, local governments have started fighting back against those detainers, arguing that they are not legally obligated to detain suspects without a court order or warrant. Courts have agreed, ruling that ICE detainers are merely requests and not orders.
Obama’s Department of Justice came to the same conclusion last year, saying it had made a legal determination that detainers were “voluntary requests.”
Miami-Dade County joined that wave in 2013, passing a resolution that limited what kind of ICE detainers it would honor: only suspects convicted of serious, violent crimes.
Gimenez’s Jan. 26 order, however, required the county jail to begin honoring all ICE requests. Gimenez said the county was legally required to do so, based on advice he got from County Attorney Abigail Price-Williams.
“My county attorney would not tell me we can hold people for 48 hours if she did not believe that was legal,” Gimenez said. “If my county attorney said, ‘We don’t think it’s legal and we advise you not to do it,’ then we wouldn’t do it.”
Gimenez told the emotional crowd that his order has been misunderstood and that it brings the county in line with federal law to ensure it is no longer incorrectly labeled a "sanctuary city."
“Miami-Dade County is not, has never considered itself, a sanctuary community,” Gimenez said. “What Miami-Dade County is, is a community with a large immigrant population that we are very proud of.“
John King, a retired firefighter, was one of the few people who supported the resolution, explaining that immigration enforcement should be taken seriously.
"I've never heard of city governments revolting against the U.S. government like this," King said. "Why shouldn't we be helping the federal law enforcement officers whose salaries we're paying from doing their job?"
But others, like Dian Alarcon, couldn't stop crying after the commission's vote. The Colombia native who has become a U.S. citizen said she couldn't grasp the idea that Miami, of all cities, is the lone one in the country siding with Trump on immigration.
"I'm so frustrated. I'm so upset. This is unreal," said Alarcon, who works with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. "This is really going to hurt."