January 17, 2018

John Kelly sits down with the Miami delegation to discuss immigration

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@alextdaugherty

White House chief of staff John Kelly made the rounds on Capitol Hill Wednesday as Congress tries to find a solution for 800,000 undocumented young immigrants and one of the groups he met with were Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart. Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd joined the Miami trio. 

Kelly, the former head of U.S. Southern Command which is based in Doral, is talking to lawmakers as Congress wrestles with an immigration debate amid finding a way to fund the government past Friday. The White House has not signaled any specific proposals it would support regarding immigration, and congressional leaders from both parties are trying to hash out a deal. 

Kelly also met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which is made up of all Democrats, to discuss immigration. All three Miami Republicans are willing to vote for legislation that stops the potential deportation of Dreamers, but its unclear which specific proposals will earn the votes of enough liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans. 

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Photo courtesy of Curbelo's office.

January 16, 2018

DACA deal still possible says Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart

Mario Diaz-Balart (1)

via @ngameztorres

Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said on Tuesday that an agreement on DACA was still possible this week. But for that to happen it would be unwise to comment or satisfy the media’s curiosity about what President Donald Trump said at a controversial immigration meeting at the White House last week.

Diaz-Balart is the only Florida member of Congress who was at the meeting in which Trump allegedly used the term “shithole countries” in reference to some African nations and Haiti. The representative for district 25 insisted that it was not his policy to comment on private meetings.

“Obviously you cannot say what is said in private meetings,” Diaz-Balart said. “I have not done it in 30 years and I’m not going to do it now.”

The offensive remark, which has been denied by Trump but confirmed by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who was also present at the meeting, has generated a wave of outrage across the country and in South Florida, home of a large Haitian community.
 

Other Florida lawmakers were among the first to denounce Trump’s alleged comments as racist, including Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“The words of President Trump are unacceptable, racist,” she said Tuesday before gathering with other lawmakers for a congressional hearing in Miami. “He is clearly saying ... that he would like to have more immigrants from Norway, a country that has 83 percent white population. This is the same president who said a few months ago that all Haitians in Miami have AIDS.

“He has a record of saying racist things,” Ros-Lehtinen added.

“If anyone says that, I not only do not agree but I think that offends unnecessarily,” said Senator Marco Rubio, who clarified that he was not at the meeting and has not discussed the issue with colleagues. “Those are comments that I do not support, they are counterproductive, no matter who would say them.”

After being at the receiving end of criticism for withholding comment, Diaz-Balart suggested that political pragmatism and his interest in avoiding the deportation of thousands of immigrants were behind his decision not to confirm or deny Trump’s offensive remark.

“I fight for my community every day ... Unfortunately there is only one person from our community who is in these serious, very difficult and delicate negotiations to try to avoid the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “I’m not going to endanger those 800,000 people to go into accusations.”

Read more here.

January 15, 2018

Miami Republican still silent as others in White House meeting defend Trump

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty

A high-stakes White House immigration meeting has devolved into a debate on whether President Donald Trump used the terms “shithole” or “shithouse” to refer to immigrants, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart still isn’t saying anything.

Two senators in the meeting, one Democrat and one Republican, said Trump used the profane language. Two other Republican senators in the meeting now say he didn’t utter “shit” in any form after initially saying they didn’t recall. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was also in the meeting, isn’t sure.

But Diaz-Balart hasn’t said whether he sides with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who say Trump used disparaging language, or Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., who said they didn’t hear it.

The Miami Republican has not confirmed or denied either of the accounts, even after Cotton and Perdue shifted their story on Sunday. Two Diaz-Balart staffers did not respond to questions on Monday and the congressman’s Washington and Doral offices were closed for Martin Luther King Day. It isn’t clear if Diaz-Balart challenged Trump in the meeting on his language towards immigrants.

Diaz-Balart confirmed he was at the White House in a statement on Friday and a spokesperson told Miami Herald news partner CBS 4 on Sunday that he doesn’t comment on private meetings.

“First of all, in his three decades of public service, Congressman Diaz-Balart has NEVER repeated, stated, or leaked what is said in private meetings,” a spokesperson said to CBS 4. “Secondly, he remains focused on the fact that in March, some 800,000 young people face deportation, and he continues to work on a bipartisan deal so that won’t happen. And finally Congressman Diaz-Balart fights and stands up for his community every single day, and his record in doing so is clear.”

Read more here.

January 12, 2018

Trump’s ‘shithole countries’ comment may have a silver lining for Haitians

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@alextdaugherty

President Donald Trump’s descent into vulgarity during a high-stakes immigration meeting has brought attention to an often overlooked group in the national conversation: the over 300,000 immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and potentially Honduras who could be forced to leave the U.S. in 2019.

The president’s remarks — he reportedly said “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out” and “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” — were in reference to immigrants living and working legally in the United States under Temporary Protected Status and to making changes to the visa lottery system.

The more than over 300,000 immigrants whose TPS will expire in 2019 have been largely under the radar compared to the 800,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. An Obama-era executive action known as DACA that allowed Dreamers to be protected from deportation expires in March, and is at the forefront of immigration discussions in Washington.

Several Miami lawmakers, including Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, along with Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, have offered legislative solutions that would provide a path to permanent residency for some or all TPS recipients. South Florida is home to the nation’s largest concentration of Haitians along with a sizable number of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans.

“This is obviously tragic and very disheartening and disappointing in every way but I’m generally an optimist and when anything like this happens there’s also opportunity,” Curbelo said. “Now, many more Americans are aware of these immigrants who are in our country legally, who work here, pay taxes here and have been here in some cases more than two decades. All of a sudden they are extremely relevant in discussions regarding an immigration compromise, where before the conversation was almost exclusively about Dreamers and border security.”

Until now, most of the lawmakers pushing for letting TPS beneficiaries stay represent large urban areas like Miami and New York City, and many of them are Democrats outside Miami. Curbelo’s office also said his bill that addresses Dreamers, called the Raising America’s Children Act, has gotten significantly more attention than his bill to help TPS beneficiaries from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras, called the ESPERER Act.

Curbelo said Trump’s vulgar comments will raise awareness outside Miami, and his spokesperson said “several Republicans have approached Carlos about it. They want to learn more.”

“We’ve added TPS beneficiaries as candidates for inclusion in a deal and that’s good news,” Curbelo said.

Read more here.

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen to vote against a spending bill (again) unless there's a DACA fix

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@alextdaugherty

The federal government will shut down on January 19 if Congress can't pass a temporary spending bill, and Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen both said they will vote against the legislation, like they did in December, if an immigration deal is not imminent. 

Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are frustrated with the pace of negotiations on a solution for 800,000 immigrants, known as Dreamers, who came to the U.S. as young children. Congress must find a legislative solution for Dreamers by March after President Donald Trump announced he will rescind an Obama-era executive order that protected them from deportation. 

"The way things stand today, I plan to keep my commitment to Dreamers and if there’s some breakthrough next week I will consider (voting yes)," Curbelo said on Friday. "If the status quo persists I am going to continue pressuring the leadership in both parties to forge a compromise because 800,000 lives are at risk." 

The two Miami Republicans were the only House Republicans who voted against the bill that keeps the government running due to immigration concerns. If enough Republicans join them, they could gain leverage to forge an immigration deal.

The vast majority of House Democrats voted with Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen against the plan in December, though moderate Florida Democrats like Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Charlie Crist voted in favor of the spending bill, even though Democratic-leaning immigrant advocacy groups urged Democrats to vote against it. 

A Miami Republican was there, but won’t say if Trump called Haiti a ‘shithole’ country

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

There were only seven lawmakers in the room when President Donald Trump reportedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries.” Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was one of them.

Did the Miami Republican hear the words himself? Did he challenge the president’s comment? He refuses to say, even after the lone Democrat in the room said Friday that Trump had “said hateful things, and he said them repeatedly.”

In a statement, Diaz-Balart merely confirmed that he was at the White House meeting on Thursday, but he did not back up Trump’s Twitter denial of the “shithole” comment, or the claim made by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who said Friday that Trump had said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

“For months, I have been involved in numerous high level bipartisan meetings negotiating DACA, including Thursday’s meeting at the White House,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement. “There are almost 800,000 young DACA beneficiaries who will face imminent deportation in March if we do not reach a deal. I will not be diverted from all possible efforts to continue negotiating to stop the deportations. Nothing will divert my focus to stop the deportation of these innocent people whose futures are at stake.”

Diaz-Balart left Washington, D.C., on Thursday after his meeting with Trump. A Miami Herald reporter unsuccessfully attempted on Friday to find Diaz-Balart at his office in Doral, located across the street from the Trump Doral resort.

Trump’s reported comments caused an uproar in Miami, home to the nation’s largest concentration of Haitian Americans.

“The president calling Haiti a ‘shithole country’ ignores the contributions thousands of Haitians have made to our SoFla community and nation,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “Language like that shouldn't be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn't be heard in the White House.”

After the White House initially did not deny the “shithole” comment, which was first reported by the Washington Post, Trump took to Twitter on Friday morning to offer his version of events.

“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump tweeted. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made — a big setback for DACA!”

Read more here.

January 09, 2018

Diaz-Balart calls White House immigration talk 'one of the most productive meetings I've been to'

Mario Diaz-Balart (1)

@alextdaugherty

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was happy with a high-stakes immigration meeting at the White House on Tuesday where President Donald Trump's negotiating skills were displayed on live television.  

Despite the media saturation, the Miami Republican said the meeting with about two dozen Democrats and Republicans was "one of the most productive meetings I've been to" as Congress tries to find a solution to help undocumented young adults known as Dreamers who came to the U.S. as young children.

"We've been discussing these issues for a long, long time and this is one of the most productive meetings I've been to," Diaz-Balart said. "Particularly when you're talking about a large group like that, diverse and everything else. I think the president set the tone and I think it was exceedingly productive." 

Diaz-Balart said the conversation in real-time with the cameras running made lawmakers from both sides explain what they meant when using terms like "clean" and "border security." 

"One of the things that I have learned over the years is that there are certain terms that when people say them they're thinking of something, and who you are talking to is thinking of a totally different thing which is why i just don't use them," Diaz-Balart said, referring to terms like "clean," "comprehensive" and "amnesty." 

He said the exchange between Trump and California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, where the President initially appeared to back a solution for Dreamers without a promise for border security, was evidence of the productivity of Tuesday's meeting. 

"When the president thinks of DACA, he's thinking of DACA and border security," Diaz-Balart said. "It was good that Sen. Feinstein said 'What are we talking about here? Her version of 'clean' and his version of 'clean' are two different things and it was clarified and that was important. But it was a very, very, very positive atmosphere."

Diaz-Balart said four items, and only four, will be part of any immigration deal between Democrats and Republicans that must pass by March when the Obama-era executive order called DACA that protects Dreamers expires. 

"That's DACA...border security, chain migration and the diversity visa lottery," Diaz-Balart said. "Some want more issues, others want less, but that's what the group agreed to." 

Diaz-Balart, who unsuccessfully pushed a massive immigration overhaul bill in 2014, is part of House Speaker Paul Ryan's immigration working group and was the only Floridian present at Tuesday's meeting. 

Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voted against a year-end spending bill in December because it did not address Dreamers. Diaz-Balart, who is generally the most conservative Miami Republican in the House of Representatives, voted in favor of the spending plan. 

January 05, 2018

A year after obeying Trump on immigration, Miami-Dade still waiting for a windfall

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@doug_hanks

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions flew to Miami in August, he promised “more money for crime fighting” as a reward for Miami-Dade dropping “sanctuary” protections from immigration violators at county jails.

But after nearly a year as one of President Donald Trump’s most lauded counties, Miami-Dade is still waiting for its federal windfall. Mayor Carlos Gimenez cited billions in rail funds Miami-Dade hoped to secure from Washington in defending the county’s immigration switch days after Trump took office. But when Trump’s transportation secretary visited Miami last fall, she offered help on permitting issues but noted: “Resources are an issue.”

Chicago is suing the Trump administration over Trump’s funding threats for sanctuary jurisdictions, but the Windy City received the same $3 million police grant from the Justice Department that Miami-Dade did in November. Before Trump became president, both jurisdictions rejected federal requests to detain people who were booked on local charges while being sought for deportation. Chicago still doesn’t, but Miami-Dade started honoring the “detainer” requests last January.

When Sessions came to Miami to cheer the county’s accepting federal requests to detain immigration offenders, the attorney general formally announced what Justice had told the county in a letter two weeks earlier: the switch on “detainers” meant the county was eligible to continue receiving help from the Byrne Grant program for local police agencies. Figures released this week by Miami-Dade’s budget office showed the county received about $700,000 in Byrne dollars last year — enough to fund the $680 million police budget for about eight hours.

“The underlying arguments were not correct,” said Melissa Taveras, spokeswoman for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a Miami-based advocacy group that opposed Gimenez’s policy change. “What we’re doing is creating more fear among our immigrant community.”

Read more here.

January 03, 2018

Sanctuary no more: Feds seize 1 immigration detainee per day from Miami-Dade jails

Donald trump 2

@doug_hanks

Miami-Dade jails turned over an average of one immigration detainee per day to federal authorities during 2017, a pace set by the county’s controversial decision to comply with President Donald Trump’s crackdown on people being sought for deportation.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered county jails to comply with the federal detention requests days after Trump took office on Jan. 20 and promised to withhold federal funds from local governments providing “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants. Miami-Dade had previously declined the requests under a county policy enacted four years earlier.

Gimenez’s directive brought instant praise from Trump himself on Twitter, but from elsewhere, accusations that Miami-Dade was abandoning its tradition as one of the most welcoming cities in the country for immigrants.

Since Gimenez’s Jan. 26 policy change, Miami-Dade jails have turned over 436 people — a little more than one person a day on average — to agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a year-end tally by the county released Tuesday. Federal “detainer” requests ask jails to hold suspected immigration offenders for an additional 48 hours after they have been booked on unrelated local charges. A detainer kicks in once the person would otherwise be free to leave the local jail, either through posting bail, being released until trial or after serving a sentence.

Local charges that landed undocumented people on the federal deportation track include a mix of serious crimes and minor offenses, according to a summary by Miami-Dade’s Corrections and Rehabilitation Department.

More than 100 detainees are listed as being arrested for violent crimes, from simple battery to kidnapping and attempted murder. A sampling of other offenses: about 30 who were in custody for driving without a valid driver’s license; about three dozen people charged with drug possession; two people charged with loitering; and seven, with misdemeanors related to drinking in public.

“It’s made people go back into the shadows,” said Rebeca Sanchez-Roig, a Miami immigration lawyer who said she sees clients far more fearful of county and city police. “Very often they won’t report a crime or violence, because they’re afraid they will be turned into Immigration. We have endangered communities with this policy.”

Read more here.

December 12, 2017

Curbelo calls on Congress to find a Dreamer solution this week

Curbelo (1)

@alextdaugherty 

Congress has less than three days to find a solution for Dreamers in order for it to become law by the end of the year, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said on Tuesday. 

But Curbelo is hopeful that Democrats and Republicans can find a compromise for the 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents who face uncertainly after President Donald Trump said he will cancel an Obama-era executive order known as DACA that allowed Dreamers to be protected from deportation.

"We had very good meetings last night, three meetings," Curbelo said. "For the first time a lot of the like-minded Republicans and Democrats who want to get to yes got together. We're getting closer to filing a compromise, which has been my frustration. There's an obvious compromise out there, DACA fix and border security, but no one has proffered that compromise." 

If both parties can find a compromise, then a spending bill that funds the government known as a continuing resolution is the likely legislative vehicle that can include a solution for Dreamers. It is expected that a continuing resolution will get a vote sometime next week before a December 22nd deadline. 

"If they (leadership) want to give us a standalone vote, that's fine, it'll pass. I know it will," Curbelo said. "The most obvious vehicle is whatever continuing resolution is with a budget cap with new bipartisan numbers. We're getting closer and a lot of people have put aside partisan differences we've had in recent weeks to focus on trying to have something next week to take a run at this before the end of the year."

If congressional leaders fail to find a compromise in an end of the year spending bill, Curbelo said he will vote against the legislation that keeps the government running. Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she will do the same. 

"I'm not going to back down from that commitment," Curbelo said. "If I get maybe a time-certain commitment from leadership that there will be a vote, maybe I would think about saying 'Okay, that's good enough.' But I doubt I would get that clarity." 

Curbelo said that if the year-end spending bill doesn't include a Dreamer solution, the next opportunity will likely be in January when Congress takes up another spending bill. 

Congress has just under three months to find a solution for Dreamers before the DACA order officially ends on March 5.