February 21, 2017

'You are not the enemy of the American people,' Ros-Lehtinen tells Miami media

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No reporter asked Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Tuesday morning about President Donald Trump's tweet last week blasting the news media as "the enemy of the American people."

But Ros-Lehtinen chose to kick off her first public appearance of the congressional recess by addressing the president's comments anyway.

"To the members of the press, I want to say thank you," Ros-Lehtinen said. "You are not the enemy of the American people."

The row of reporters lined in the wall in front of her at downtown Miami's Venture Hive, an entrepreneurship accelerator, remained silent. Ros-Lehtinen continued.

"You have a central role in our republic," said the congresswoman, who was born in Cuba. "We thank you for it -- even when you criticize public officials."

At the White House later, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked if the president would consider revising his characterization of democracy's Fourth Estate.

"Certain outlets have gone out of their way to not be completely accurate and fair in their coverage," Spicer said. "He has a deep respect for the First Amendment, for the role of the press."

Photo credit: Jose I. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Miami lawmakers on Trump deportations: ‘You’re going to catch a lot of good people’


Two Miami Republicans in Congress immediately questioned on Tuesday the Trump administration’s new policy exposing nearly all immigrants in the country illegally to deportation.

U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen were speaking at an event highlighting the contribution of immigrants to Miami’s fledgling tech industry when the Department of Homeland Security announced its rules expanding the categories of people prioritized for removal — a reversal from the Obama administration, which had focused on deporting criminals.

“I worry that when you cast a wide net, you’re going to catch some criminals — but you’re going to catch a lot of good people who don’t have papers but they have not committed violent crimes,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba. “This is a community that has been immigrant-friendly.”

Curbelo agreed, saying there is “broad consensus” to deport “people who are here with the goal of doing us harm.”

“I’d like to encourage the administration to keep the focus on deporting dangerous criminals,” said Curbelo, the son of Cuban immigrants. “Also, I would encourage the administration to try to keep families together as much as possible.”

The congressman did thank President Trump for not pushing to undo the protections offered to people brought into the country illegally as children by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

More here.

Photo credit: Jose I. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

February 17, 2017

Fearing Trump, Miami-Dade commission drops county's "sanctuary" protections

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@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

Miami-Dade commissioners on Friday backed Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s controversial decision to detain jailed inmates sought for deportation by the federal government, citing funding threats by President Donald Trump and ignoring hours of emotional testimony from residents who implored the board to stand up to the mayor.

With a 9-3 vote, commissioners stood behind Gimenez despite listening to scores of residents who spent the day at County Hall hoping to persuade them to protect Miami-Dade’s immigrant identity.

“Shame on you!” the crowd cried after the vote, hurling bits of paper at the dais and standing up to yell and stomp out of the chambers. “May God have mercy on your soul,” one woman hollered.

Voting to endorse Gimenez’s Jan. 26 directive were Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Vice Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Sally Heyman, Joe Martinez, Dennis Moss, Rebeca Sosa and Javier Souto. Voting against were Commissioners Daniella Levine Cava, Jean Monestime and Xavier Suarez. Commissioner Barbara Jordan was absent.

“Miami-Dade is not — has never considered itself — a sanctuary community” Gimenez said.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald staff

Restore county's 'sanctuary' stance, residents urge Miami-Dade commission

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@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

One after another, the people who crammed the Miami-Dade County Commission chambers Friday delivered an extended, impassioned and often eloquent defense of immigration, imploring their elected leaders to defend South Florida’s diversity under the presidency of Donald Trump.

More than 150 people signed up to speak, almost all of them against Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s decision to require local jails to detain inmates at the request of federal immigration authorities. Commissioners are scheduled to vote to accept or reject Gimenez’s directive later Friday.

The mayor has cast his action as a purely financial one, intended to avoid a federal funding cut threatened by a Trump executive order banning cities and counties that act as a “sanctuary” for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

But for most speakers — the vast majority of them Hispanic — Gimenez’s move to essentially revoke the county’s sanctuary stance represented an unacceptable rebuke to Miami-Dade’s immigrant identity.

“I’m heartbroken by this debate,” said Manuel Ernesto Gutierrez, who described himself as a U.S. Navy veteran. “What bothers me — and should bother you — is the fundamental issue of what kind of community do we want to be. Do we want to be a welcoming community?”

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald staff

February 16, 2017

Trump looms over ‘sanctuary’ showdown in Miami-Dade

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@doug_hanks @PatriciaMazzei

President Donald Trump’s crackdown on communities offering “sanctuary” from immigration enforcement faces its first big test Friday when the Miami-Dade County Commission convenes to decide whether local jails should continue holding inmates sought by the feds for deportation.

After weeks of protests and demonstrations, the 13-member commission wades into a legislative battlefield over Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s Trump-friendly detention policy, which must receive board approval to stand. At the rare special meeting, set to begin at 10 a.m., competing resolutions call for backing Gimenez’s authority, reversing him, and condemning Trump’s original threat of the loss of federal funds as an unconstitutional assault on local government.

Combined, the agenda offers a local venue for the national debate — and a chance for a heavily blue county largely populated by immigrants to weigh the consequences of cooperating with the Trump administration.

“Obviously, this is something that the country is wrangling with,” said commission Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo, a Republican who backs Gimenez’s detention policy. “It’s serious stuff for people. We have to treat it that way. I don’t have a lot of tolerance for the political grandstanding.”

At stake is Miami-Dade’s identity as one of America’s most prominent immigrant capitals. Looming over the vote is Trump’s threat to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars, which could squash the county’s hopes for an expanded rail system.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

Anti-Trump protesters in Florida try to figure out what comes next


Three weeks after they wore pink knitted hats, waved homemade protest signs and marched in Washington and in Miami, the women determined to keep confronting President Donald Trump filed into the pews of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove — if not to pray, then at least to commune.

“If you feel comfortable closing your eyes, please do so: We’re in a safe space,” Natalia Vásquez urged as she led an opening moment of meditation that felt a lot like the start of a yoga class. “Ask yourself, ‘Why am I here? What is important to me right now? And how can I become involved in loving action?’”

They breathed and applauded and cheered together. And then came the hard work: trying to figure out how to turn their anti-Trump fervor into a long-term political movement — one more akin to the tea party, which quickly dominated U.S. elections, than to Occupy Wall Street, which didn’t.

The women’s marches held on Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration, drew such extraordinary crowds that organizers across the country have spent the past few weeks dealing with the consequences of their unexpected success. Protesters wanted to know what more they could do — now and over the next four years.

No one had planned that far in advance.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

Trump names Miamian Alex Acosta to lead labor department

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@jayhweaver @PatriciaMazzei @NickNehamas

President Donald Trump nominated R. Alexander Acosta, a former Miami U.S. attorney and the current dean of Florida International University’s law school, as labor secretary Thursday after Trump’s initial choice failed to gain support in the Republican-led Senate.

Acosta, a 48-year-old Republican who served as South Florida’s top federal prosecutor during President George W. Bush’s second term before joining FIU’s faculty, not only boasts stellar conservative credentials but is also recognized locally as a political pragmatist.

“He has had a tremendous career,” Trump said Thursday. “He will be a tremendous secretary of labor.”

Trump made the announcement from the White House East Room. Acosta wasn’t present, suggesting Trump decided on his new nominee so quickly that Acosta didn’t have enough time to make it to Washington.

Acosta, who is Cuban-American, would be the first and only Hispanic on Trump’s Cabinet, and the third Cuban-American Cabinet secretary in history, after Mel Martinez and Carlos Gutierrez. Acosta’s full name is Rene Alexander Acosta; he goes by Alex and lives in Coral Gables.

The president spent most of the news conference Thursday laying into reporters, whom he characterized as unfair. Trump has scheduled his first post-inauguration political rally for Saturday afternoon in Melbourne. 

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

Miami lawmakers praise Trump's new labor pick, a local


Even before President Donald Trump announced Alexander Acosta as his new secretary of labor pick, a Miami Republican lawmaker started singing Acosta's praises.

NBC News reported Thursday -- ahead of Trump's White House press conference announcing his choice -- that it would be Acosta, the dean of Florida International University's law school and former U.S. attorney for the southern district of Florida. Acosta would be Trump's first and only Hispanic Cabinet member.

The still-unconfirmed news prompted immediate support from U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart:

I am excited to learn of Alex Acosta’s nomination for Labor Secretary. He has an impressive record of achievement, having served on the National Labor Relations Board, as well as receiving  presidential appointments to both U.S. Attorney for Southern District of Florida and Assistant Attorney General during his career. Alex has also been an exemplary Dean of one of the best law schools in the state, leading FIU to earn the highest bar passage rates in Florida for three years in a row. He is a man of great principle, integrity, and courage, and I am confident he will do an excellent job serving our nation.

Here's the reaction from U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami:

And from U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami:

And from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida:

I know Alex Acosta well, and he is a phenomenal choice to lead the Department of Labor. Whether it was his distinguished service as U.S. attorney in Florida’s Southern District or as dean of Florida International University’s school of law, Alex has succeeded in all endeavors he has taken on, and managing the Department of Labor will be no different. I look forward to his confirmation hearing, where I’m confident he will impress my colleagues and secure the support necessary to be the next secretary of labor.

February 15, 2017

Miami U.S. attorney, who was appointed by Obama, to step down

via @jayhweaver

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, who served almost seven years in the longest tenure for South Florida's top law enforcement official, said Wednesday that he will be stepping down on March 3.

Ferrer, who will be replaced temporarily by his first assistant, career prosecutor Ben Greenberg, announced his resignation so he can begin considering other opportunities in the legal community while the newly elected president, Donald Trump, decides his permanent successor.

Ferrer, the son of Cuban immigrants who rose to the top of his class at Hialeah Senior High School and the University of Miami before obtaining his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, told the Miami Herald that it has been a “sad day, but it was time.”

Ferrer, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2010, oversaw an office with nearly 250 lawyers that stretches from Key West to Fort Pierce. It has been recognized for decades as one of the busiest and most colorful districts for federal criminal prosecutions in the country.

More here.

February 10, 2017

Those hot congressional town halls? Don't expect many in South Florida


Over the past week, a string of town-hall meetings held across the country by Republican members of Congress have drawn hordes of constituents angry about repealing the Affordable Care Act and the GOP's embrace of President Donald Trump

But if South Floridians want a similar forum to vent to their Republican lawmakers, they're out of luck.

The only local member of Congress who plans to hold open meetings soon is U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, who's got two scheduled -- in Wilton Manors and Pompano Beach -- Saturday. Democrats just haven't been getting the same sort of protests as Republicans at their public events.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has no town hall planned, a spokesman said, noting that the Senate is still in session. (Progressive activists say they will nevertheless stump outside his Doral office Tuesday to ask him for one.) Neither does Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. No in-person town halls are scheduled either for Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, though he hopes to let constituents call into a "tele-town hall" in late March, a spokeswoman said. 

A spokeswoman for Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart refused to admit the congressman isn't holding town halls.

"The Congressman is constantly traveling the district and meeting with constituents, but we do not publicize his schedule," Katrina Valdés said in an email.

When pressed if that means no public events without pre-screened attendees, she added: "He has countless meetings with constituents and constituent groups while traveling the district. Our office is in touch with those who he will be meeting with."

More than 200 pro-Obamacare protesters showed up last Saturday at a town hall for Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Palm Harbor, the Tampa Bay Times reported.