Miami-Dade keeps detainer requests a secret, but mayor wants Immigration to make them public

Miami-Dade drew national attention this year when it began honoring detention requests at local jails from immigration authorities. What’s actually in the requests? That remains an official secret.

The Miami Herald filed a public records request last month to examine dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement “detainer” requests on file at the county’s Corrections Department. Initially, the county agreed to turn over 62 pages at a cost of $163. But this week, a county spokesman reversed course and said ICE lawyers insisted the documents can’t be made public.

In a memo to the county’s legal department Thursday, Mayor Carlos Gimenez objected to the secrecy, saying his administration wants to release the records.

“I strongly believe that the release of the forms is consistent with the County’s practice of disclosure and transparency, and this information should not be withheld from the public,” Gimenez wrote to Abigail Price-Williams, county attorney. “Therefore, I request that you immediately seek written authorization from the federal government allowing the County to release these forms to the public.”

The push back from Gimenez has the mayor advocating to disclose the forms that sparked one of the most high-profile controversies of his six years in office. Miami-Dade commissioners voted in 2013 to essentially stop honoring the requests, which extend detention times for local inmates sought for possible deportation by ICE. Shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump promised funding cuts for communities providing “sanctuary” for immigration offenders, a heading generally tied to ignoring detainer requests.

Citing the budgetary risks, Gimenez on Jan. 26 ordered Corrections to begin honoring all detainer requests. The decision, later backed by the commission, prompted a string of protests as well as public praise from Trump, who called the move “Strong!” in a tweet.

A judge struck down Gimenez’s order earlier this month, saying Miami-Dade should not be holding inmates on the federal government’s behalf. That decision was immediately suspended after Miami-Dade appealed, and the county continues honoring detention requests.

More than 50 requests have been received since the mayor’s Jan. 26 policy change. The county sporadically releases lists of inmates who are the subject of the detention requests, which generally hold someone up to 48 hours longer after they would otherwise be free to go on their local charges. ICE flags the person when he or she is booked on local charges, then sends Miami-Dade a request to hold them until immigration officers can apprehend the person.

The Herald requested to see the forms that trigger the extra detention. An ICE spokesman had no immediate comment.

In his memo, Gimenez suggested Miami-Dade would begin releasing the forms if further legal review concluded the ICE forms should be considered public.

“While we will continue to comply with federal law,” Gimenez wrote, “we will also continue to release and disclose public information, as permitted by law.”