September 06, 2017

Miami-Dade to unauthorized immigrants: Don’t fear Hurricane Irma shelters

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@PatriciaMazzei

Immigrants in South Florida illegally should not fear deportation if they seek shelter during Hurricane Irma, according to political leaders who urged the undocumented to heed local evacuation orders.

“We don’t ask anybody for their identification,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a briefing late Wednesday from the county’s emergency operations center in Doral. “Everybody who needs shelter in Miami-Dade County is welcome, and you should do so without any fear of any repercussions.”

When Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas late last month, some unauthorized immigrants told aid workers and news reporters they stayed away from public shelters because they were scared federal authorities would inquire about their legal status and detain them. Their concerns were exacerbated when uniformed U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents assisted in the recovery — even though the federal government said repeatedly the agents weren’t acting in any deportation capacity.

To avoid a similar situation in South Florida, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio urged the Department of Homeland Security to explain in advance its role during Hurricane Irma. The agency said Wednesday it “will not conduct non-criminal immigration enforcement operations in the affected area,” though Homeland Security personnel will be deployed to help federal, state and local authorities in the storm’s aftermath.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

UPDATED: Taddeo, Diaz temporarily suspending Senate campaigns for Hurricane Irma

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida Legislature (34)The two candidates in a fierce battle for an open state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County have temporarily suspended their campaigns due to Hurricane Irma and say they have redirected their efforts to help with preparations for the massive storm.

Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo announced Wednesday morning she was putting a pause on her campaign and she called on her opponent -- Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz -- to do the same "to ensure our teams and their families can prepare for the storm."

“Our community’s safety must be our singular focus right now," Taddeo said in a statement. "Therefore, I have instructed my team to move to immediately suspend campaign activities and have asked that we pause any advertising from airing as soon as possible."

In a statement to the Herald/Times, Diaz indicated he had quietly already taken similar steps earlier this week.

"My main priority right now is to make sure that the residents of our community are safe and prepared," Diaz said. "Until Hurricane Irma clears, my state Senate campaign has refocused to emergency preparations mode."

Diaz said he's been in contact with state and local authorities in the past couple days and has also visited community centers and spoken with senior citizens to emphasize preparation. He said, "as of yesterday [Tuesday], all our radio ads were switched to hurricane preparedness messages."

"Needless to say, my efforts are focused on making sure that our community is safe, strong, and ready for the potential impacts of Hurricane Irma," Diaz said.

Taddeo also had urged Miami-Dade residents to heed weather warnings.

The general election for the District 40 seat in southwest Miami-Dade is on Sept. 26.

Photo credit: Annette Taddeo [top], Miami Herald file. Jose Felix Diaz [right], AP.

*This post was updated at 12:50 p.m.

September 05, 2017

Miami laments end of DACA

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@PatriciaMazzei @harrisalexc @BrendaMedinar

South Florida’s robust community of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children decried President Donald Trump on Tuesday for calling for an end to an Obama-era program that for five years has protected them from deportation, saying the White House has clouded their futures with uncertainty.

They were joined by local politicians — including Republicans vocally opposed to Trump’s decision — who clamored for quick congressional action before a six-month grace period expires for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

“It’s the only real protection I have right now,” lamented 20-year-old Javiera Garate, who came to the U.S. from Chile when she was 4. “There’s literally nothing you can do without that.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the expected announcement Tuesday morning that the government would stop expanding DACA, which then-President Barack Obama created under executive action in 2012. A group of 10 conservative states challenged the program in court, and Sessions’ Justice Department refused to defend it.

Obama took the rare step Tuesday of commenting on the decision, which he called "cruel."

“Ultimately, this is about basic decency,” Obama said in a statement. “This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people — and who we want to be.”

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

Rubio on DACA: 'The president will have to lead'

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@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to tell lawmakers what legislation he’d be willing to sign to allow to immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to stay, now that his administration has decided to wind down the executive program that protected them from deportation.

“Congress has to act,” Rubio said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “But on this matter, the White House and the president will have to lead.”

In his first public remarks about the end of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, the Republican senator said he’s been reassured in private conversations with the White House that Trump wants Congress to help the so-called “Dreamers” — and not just let their work permits and deportation protection expire.

“This is not something he really wants to do,” Rubio said of Trump. “He kind of finds himself in a situation, from a constitutional and legal perspective, where he has to address it.”

Rubio argued DACA, challenged in court by attorneys general from 10 states, would likely have been ruled unconstitutional in a few months and left the nearly 800,000 people who have benefited from the program immediately unprotected. When U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that DACA would be rescinded, he included a six-month wind-down period gives Congress room to legislate. 

“The idea that we could have somehow continued it in perpetuity isn’t true. It’s on very shaky constitutional ground,” Rubio said. “There were some advocating for its immediate cancellation. The only reason to put the six-month period in place is to give Congress to opportunity to address this.”

More here.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle, Getty Images

September 04, 2017

On Twitter and TV, Ros-Lehtinen takes Trump to task on DACA

@PatriciaMazzei

Scrolling through Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's Twitter feed over the last two days was a study in the retiring congresswoman's longtime frustration toward President Donald Trump over his aggressive deportation policy. The White House appears likely to move to end a program Tuesday that protects from deportation immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.

A sampling, from oldest to newest:

September 01, 2017

Miami billionaire wants to meet with Paul Ryan on DACA

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@PatriciaMazzei

A billionaire Miami political donor wants to meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan to press his case for Congress to protect from deportation immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.

Healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez, a vocal opponent of the Trump administration's aggressive deportation policy, has asked Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo to arrange a meeting with Ryan, according to an email exchange Fernandez forwarded Friday to the Miami Herald and a group of local and state business, political and civic leaders.

President Donald Trump has threatened to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday an announcement would come Tuesday.

"We love the DREAMers," Trump told reporters. "We love everybody."

In the email, Fernandez praised Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, a Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon who was born in Mexico and crossed the border into the U.S. as a teenager. Fernandez called him a "dear friend."

"This is the type of talent we will be deporting" he wrote. "What are we doing to our Nation?"

Fernandez included a Friday morning email to Curbelo calling the sophomore congressman "bold" because he has filed legislative amendments trying to keep the Trump administration from spending money to deport DACA recipients.

Curbelo has also filed a bill that would effectively enact DACA into law -- an effort supported by other Republicans, including Ryan, who said Friday he opposes having Trump end DACA before letting Congress take it up.

From his BlackBerry, Curbelo responded to Fernandez on Friday: "No stone can be left unturned."

He acknowledged the White House would probably "weaken" the program.

"I feel good about a legislative fix before the end of the year," Curbelo added. "Had a good conversation with Paul. Will work on a meeting for you this month."

Curbelo previously arranged a 2016 Ryan meeting with Fernandez over Cuba policy. Fernandez was then a registered Republican who backed former President Barack Obama's renewed diplomatic relations with Havana.

Fernandez has since left the GOP and registered without party affiliation. Earlier this year, he created a fund to help defend unauthorized immigrants in court.

Earlier this week, Fernandez took part in a Miami Dade College forum supporting DACA.

Fernandez was a major financier of Jeb Bush's presidential campaign. Friday on Facebook, Bush also urged legislative action to protect Dreamers:

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

August 31, 2017

Miami Republican wants to keep White House from spending money to end DACA, if DACA survives that long

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@PatriciaMazzei

As early as Friday, President Donald Trump could end a program that protected from deportation young immigrants brought into the country illegally.

But if the White House doesn't immediately eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, at least one Miami Republican member of Congress wants to try to make it more difficult for the Trump administration to act on its own.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo recently filed three amendments to a House spending bill intended to block the use of budget funds to alter DACA. It appears to be a long-shot approach, given that the GOP-held House seems unlikely to oppose Trump on cracking down on immigration, an issue important to the president's base.

One amendment would prohibit the White House from using any funds appropriated in the bill to change DACA. Another would ban the funds from being used to deport DACA recipients or cancel or suspend their work permits.

A third amendment would allow DACA recipients, often called "Dreamers," to be eligible for government employment.

The mega appropriations bill is scheduled to be considered in the House next week, after Congress returns from its summer recess.

Some 50,000 people benefit from DACA in Florida. Curbelo filed a new version of the "Dream Act" -- legislation that would allow people brought into the country illegally as children to remain -- in March.

Photo credit: David Santiago, el Nuevo Herald

Diaz-Balart to Miami-Dade: 'C'mon, man. Use me.'

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via @doug_hanks

As Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tells it, he watches from the chairman’s perch of a powerful transportation committee just waiting to use his authority to steer billions of dollars in federal transit aid to his home county of Miami-Dade. The wait continues.

“C’mon man,” Diaz-Balart said. “Use me.”

His comments to the Miami Herald Editorial Board this week capture one of the biggest divides in Miami-Dade’s ongoing debate about whether to pursue an expensive rail expansion or make do with some sort of modernized bus system.

Advocates of rail say county leaders’ unwillingness to pick a single rail corridor to be built first has left Miami-Dade paralyzed. An ongoing study of six potential rail lines, they say, leaves Miami-Dade unable to start the lengthy federal application process that could eventually let Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, use his influence as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee for transportation to advance a hometown project to the top of the funding list.

Skeptics see the years required for federal approval as a delay that residents won’t tolerate as traffic worsens. Now, Mayor Carlos Gimenez has joined their ranks. A recent memo from the mayor and his financial team outlines a more daunting objection: Even if Washington came through with billions to build new rail lines for Miami-Dade, the county doesn’t have the millions needed to operate it.

More here.

August 29, 2017

Prosecutors run out of time to charge former U.S. Rep. David Rivera

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@PatriciaMazzei

Federal prosecutors had half a decade to bring criminal charges against former U.S. Rep. David Rivera in an illegal campaign-finance scheme that landed two of his co-conspirators in jail.

They didn’t. And now, they will no longer be able to do so.

Tuesday marked the five-year anniversary of the last recorded act in the conspiracy involving at least $69,000 in secret money Rivera, a Republican who was then a member of Congress, was suspected to have funneled into the campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, a ringer candidate in the 2012 Democratic primary. As of Wednesday, the statute of limitations to indict Rivera on any of the same charges as his co-conspirators will have expired.

Rivera will have escaped criminal prosecution, though the feds are still going after him in civil court.

He is now a 2018 candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, the chamber where he began his political career in 2002. 

“I can’t really fathom how a person that has been named as a co-conspirator is out there, while I had to serve a sentence, and so did Mr. Sternad,” Ana Alliegro, the Republican consultant Rivera used as a go-between to send Sternad money, told the Miami Herald in an interview Tuesday. “What upsets me is that politicians don’t go to jail in this state. I don’t get it. They don’t get reprimanded.”

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, El Nuevo Herald staff

August 27, 2017

Trujillo won't resign from Florida Legislature for Trump administration post

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Rep. Carlos Trujillo said Sunday he won't resign his seat in the Florida Legislature if the U.S. Senate confirms him to a post in the Trump administration.

On Friday, the White House nominated Trujillo, a Republican, to be a United Nations representative under Ambassador Nikki Haley

Trujillo said he confirmed over the weekend that the position would not require him to abandon his elected office. He is term-limited from the state House next year. That would avoid a special election to replace him in House District 105, a Republican-leaning seat.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald