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Miami-Dade Mayor: 'We Never Claimed To Be A Sanctuary City'

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is having to defend his stance on changing the county's policy – undoing its status as an immigrant sanctuary.

Bright and early Friday morning, the mayor sat down with CBS4's Jim DeFede to talk about why he is now ordering illegal immigrants to be detained indefinitely for the federal government. This, the same week President Donald Trump threatened to pull funding for "sanctuary cities" – that may have meant a cut of $355 million for the county, the mayor says.

"I do not want to put Miami-Dade County as a 'sanctuary city,' which we have never claimed to be a sanctuary city, and put us at risk because, remember, all of those that you're talking about is discretionary funds from the federal government. The government has that discretion. The federal government has the discretion to give us that money or not, and I don't want to put us at risk of not receiving those discretionary funds," said Mayor Gimenez.

According to the order signed by President Trump on Wednesday, any city considered a "sanctuary city," or cities that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation, could lose federal funds. Miami-Dade County, being on the Department of Justice's official list, may have faced cuts.

But what about the legality of that?

When asked about the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the federal government for the executive order, Gimenez said he "consulted with a county attorney."

"Did they say you might have a case or did they say you have no case whatsoever in challenging the federal government's ability to take money away from you for this," asked DeFede.

Gimenez responded, "Remember, this is talking about discretionary money, Jim. Okay, discretionary money means that those people in charge of those agencies have the discretion either to award those moneys or not to award those moneys."

"You think the Trump administration was going to cut funding from Dade County in Florida, a state he needs to win," asked DeFede.

"Either cut or not give certain discretionary funds to Miami-Dade County, absolutely," Gimenez responded.

Under the memorandum signed by Mayor Gimenez on Thursday, county jails will now comply with federal immigration detention requests. Before, the county refused to detain an inmate indefinitely if they were in the country illegally. The county would only detain them indefinitely if the federal government said they would reimburse their costs for doing that.

That all changed on Thursday.

"We would not hold them unless they guaranteed that we would get reimbursed. Now, today, my order says 'don't worry about the guarantee,'" he explained on Thursday. "If the federal government wants us to hold the individual, we will hold them for the federal government. That's the only change."

It's a controversial move for the mayor who represents a county with a high number of immigrants.

"You're going to have protesters at your office," said DeFede. "You represent a community of immigrants."

"I know… I do and you know what? All we've done is gone back to a policy that we had back in 2014 for years here in Miami-Dade County," said Gimenez.

"That doesn't necessarily mean that it was the right policy to have before," argued DeFede.

"It may not but you know what, it's a policy that we're going to return to," said Gimenez.

Trump took to Twitter Thursday evening calling the mayor's move the "right decision."

A group of protesters do not agree and took their disagreement on the matter to the streets of Miami-Dade County, in front of Mayor Gimenez's office Friday.

The mayor's actions stand in stark contrast to most big city mayors – from Boston to Seattle – who have said they would defy Trump's threats.

Broward County and Palm Beach County have not opted to abide by the Trump administration's order and will continue their previous policy of not holding an inmate indefinitely if they are in the country illegally.

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said they have always followed federal and state guidelines when it comes to illegal immigrants.

"We're not doing anything differently," Sharief said. "To us, this is really a moot point because we're doing everything we're supposed to do in terms of illegal immigrants. We are not a sanctuary county."

In Broward, if an undocumented immigrant is arrested and is being held on a probable cause warrant from a judge, that inmate can be held for immigration officials.

Conversely, in Miami-Dade there now appears to be a lower standard.

The mayor of the city of Miami, Tomas Regalado, posted a tweet Friday night saying, "@MiamiPD job is to protect and serve the residents of the city of Miami. I am disappointed with the decision of the county."

The Florida Democratic Party issued a statement on the matter Thursday calling Gimenez's move "unconscionable."

"It's unconscionable that the mayor of Miami Dade County would turn his back on immigrants because he lacks the spine to stand up to Donald Trump," said Miami-Dade DEC Chair Juan Cuba. "Mayor Giménez's cowardice will expose tens of thousands of families to deportation, despite the County Commission's unanimous 2013 vote to designate Miami-Dade a Sanctuary County. Mayor Giménez must not let the Trump administration turn our local law enforcement officials into a deportation force that will tear families apart." 

"Mayors from across the country have refused to turn their backs on immigrants. Miami-Dade County should proudly do the same. I hope all Miami-Dade residents who reject Trump's bigotry will call the Mayor's office and make their voices heard." 

Watch the full interview on CBS4 News at noon or on Facing South Florida on Sunday at 8:30 a.m.

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