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Miami-Dade Police Immigrant Policy Facing Rewrite

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Earlier this year Miami-Dade County and Mayor Carlos Gimenez came under loud, angry protest for becoming the only city in the country to bow to a Trump administration order to hold immigrants arrested, even for minor offenses, without a warrant, in order to give ICE time to come get them. The county is being sued over the practice by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

With the sound of protests still reverberating in county hall, some commissioners are concerned about the police department's relatively new policy, issued in May, on how cops will deal with the undocumented they encounter during traffic stops and other investigations.

Related: Trump Administration Threatens Sanctuary Cities In Immigration Fight

"The intent is that the Miami-Dade Police Department does not want federal immigration authority," Mayoral spokesman Mike Hernandez said Tuesday.

"We don't want people to think that we're going to be going out, knocking on doors and actually seeking out individuals that may not be documented here in the county," said Police Director Juan Perez.

The recently developed policy seems to make it clear: Immigrants need not fear an encounter with, or cooperating with police. But some commissioners are concerned about some language in the policy.

"Our police department is not supposed to be an arm of the immigration department, so any wording that gives that impression we have to be very careful with," said Commissioner Xavier Suarez.

Among some of the wording in the policy: "Victims and witnesses of crimes shall not be questioned about their immigration status unless this information is clearly relevant to the investigation."

Related: MDCPS Superintendent: 'Over My Dead Body' Will Immigration Agents Enforce On School Grounds

Perez says the language refers to investigations such as human trafficking and smuggling where immigrants might be involved, and local investigators are working with federal agencies.

Some, however, see the "clearly relevant" reference to be a vague loophole big enough to drive a paddy wagon through. One possibility, they fear, is that an investigator might put the squeeze on a witness or a victim in a crime, threatening to call ICE on them if they refuse to cooperate.

"It is very important that the police only inquire if necessary about immigration status, and the way it is here it is too broad," Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said of the police policy. Levine Cava said she first raised concerns about the policy and that Director Perez has been responsive.

Perez told CBS4 News he sees areas where the department can "tweak" the policy, and make it more abuse proof. Commissioners put off a scheduled discussion of the issue to give Perez and the mayor time to come back with something else to review.

"There are some things, now that I look at it, that can be modified," Perez said. "We'll be looking at it, and I think it's being deferred today to give us more time to sit down with our partners in the community and look at places we can modify to alleviate those concerns."

Related: Protests Continue As Dade Commissioners Take Up Mayor's Immigration Decision

No date has been set for the commission to review a revised policy. In the interim, Perez said the department will work diligently to "reach out" to the community and assure immigrants that police are here to help them, not round them up or turn them over to federal authorities.

"We need victims and witnesses to know that they can come forward," Perez said.

To read the Mayor's memo to commissioners and the current Miami-Dade Police policy, "Undocumented Persons," click here.

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