Miami-Dade County officially reversed course on being a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, the first in the nation to do so, a decision that is an affront to the county’s history as a place that welcomes immigrants.
In a special meeting and by a vote of 9 to 3 – not even close – the Miami-Dade County Commission, itself populated with immigrants and children of immigrants, voted to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, hoping to safeguard millions in federal funds that the Trump administration has threatened to withhold.
Damning of all – six of seven Latinos on the County Commission voted to end sanctuary status. Only former Mayor Xavier Suárez voted against it.
Latinos Vote for No Sanctuary
Of the six who voted fore the measure about four were born in Cuba, whose immigrants until recently enjoyed a privileged status, with the U.S. government providing a direct route to financial assistance, permanent residency and eventually American citizenship. Barack Obama ended the practice, known as “wet-foot, dry-foot,” in one of his last acts as president.
“This is a day that will define Miami-Dade County for the future,” said Commissioner Jean Monestime, who is the board’s first Haitian-American member. “Today cannot be about money, Mr. Mayor. It must be about justice. It must be about dignity,” Monestine said, as reported in the Miami Herald.
Monestime was referring to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who in January initiated the change, arguing that Miami-Dade had never been a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. He further stated that Miami-Dade had never stopped cooperating with federal immigration officials.
But Miami-Dade is a region that accepted and absorbed – if not exactly welcomed – tens of thousands of immigrants, many of them undocumented. At no time more so than in 1980 when 125,000 immigrants from Cuba’s Mariel port landed on South Florida shores in the span of just a six months. That’s a rate of arrival of 21,000 per month. Anyone who was alive and aware at that time remembers the crisis.
Miami-Dade is 65 percent Latino, of which 54 percent is Cuban, according to census data. But after Mariel the county also became more ethnically diverse, as political tumult coursed through the veins of Central and South America.
The county now includes Colombians (7 percent of Latinos), Nicaraguans (6.6 percent), Dominicans and Hondurans (each nearly 4 percent) Venezuelans (3 percent) – to say nothing of Haitians (70 percent of Miami-Dade West Indians), who were turned away at sea even as Cubans were being welcomed to Miami-Dade with open arms.
They were all mostly poor, perhaps persecuted, tired, hungry and yearning to breathe free. This is what makes the Miami-Dade County Commission’s vote galling.
Residents Voice Opposition
Mayor Gimenez feigned his own brand of outrage, saying “Yo soy inmigrante” (I am an immigrant), in answer to the opposition, as if it made the measure easier to swallow.
It did not.
To the credit of Miami-Dade residents, about 150 jammed the County Commission chamber to tell their immigrant stories and denounce the move. According to the Miami-Herald, activists had protested in front of county headquarters for weeks. Only a small number supported the move. Residents at the meeting chanted “Shame on you!” as they left the chamber.
“The last four weeks have been so difficult for me and so difficult for everyone,” said Nora Sandigo, an immigration activist.
Not Personal but Financial
Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, born in Cuba and educated in Puerto Rico, justified the decision. “We’re all immigrants. We all have very sad stories,” said Sosa, according to the Miami-Herald, adding that Miami-Dade’s decision was not personal but financial, affecting only those booked on local charges.
Don’t bet on it.
The no-sanctuary vote will affect many more people. “Every single day something is happening in the neighborhood,” said Sandigo, the immigration activist.