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Legal Experts: Gimenez Not Obligated To Obey Trump On Immigrant Detentions

Emilly Michot
Miami Herald
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is under fire from local immigration activists for reversing a four-year-old county policy and bowing to President Trump's demand on detaining undocumented immigrants.

Protests continued on Tuesday against Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s decision to bow to President Trump’s demands on immigration detentions.

"Our Mayor refuses to stand by his immigrant community and chooses to support Donald Trump and his anti-immigration policies," said Miami immigration activist Lis-Marie Alvarado as demonstrators at Miami-Dade county hall in downtown Miami chanted, "Hey Gimenez, shame on you! You are an immigrant too!"

Gimenez is hearing a lot of anger like Alvarado's these days. But legal experts say he could have avoided all this – by doing nothing.

Instead, Gimenez last week said Miami-Dade would comply with President Trump’s request to help the federal government detain undocumented immigrants. Trump is threatening to cut federal funds to local governments that don’t cooperate. And for Miami-Dade that could mean $300 million.

On Local 10's "This Week in South Florida" on Sunday, Deputy Mayor Russell Benford explained his boss's decision:

“Mayor Gimenez has made the decision that he will follow the laws of this country," Benford said. "At this time, we feel the detainer requests are legal.”

But immigration law experts like the University of Miami's Rebecca Sharpless, president of the local chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, insist the Mayor is not obligated to yield to Trump.

“The Mayor acted in haste," says Sharpless. "There is no dispute that these are requests, not mandates, by the federal government. The law in fact prevents the federal government from compelling states or cities to enact or administer a federal program.”

Miami-Dade commissioners like Daniella Levine Cava of District 8 want a commission vote on the issue. Levine Cava says the county should also consider joining litigation against Trump’s order.

“We are a county of immigrants, so we need to signal we are going to take care of our people," says Levine Cava. "Not only those who could be caught up in the dragnet but also our entire community that could be at risk when people out of fear might avoid cooperating with our law enforcement.”

Miami-Dade is not a so-called "sanctuary city" that shelters undocumented immigrants (a practice Trump is trying to confront). But it did pass a resolution four years ago not to help detain immigrants unless the feds reimburse the county for the costs.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.