Who would have thought that Miami — Gateway to the Americas, eternal city of refuge, capital of Latin America — could stand to learn a thing or two from Seattle on immigration?
It’s embarrassing, but true.
Early last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a new round of threats to sanctuary cities, vowing to suspend grants — even for crime-prevention programs, believe it or not — if the 118 jurisdictions considered immigrant refuges didn’t jump on President Donald Trump’s bandwagon and help the federal government enforce immigration law.
To this, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray had the perfect answer.
He filed a lawsuit against Trump, Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, alleging that the threat to withdraw $4.1 billion in federal funds to cities and counties for refusing to perform a federal function is illegal and unconstitutional.
The lawsuit claims the Trump administration’s coercive conditions on funding are a breach of the 10th Amendment, which limits the federal government’s power to force state entities to enforce federal regulations.
A constitutional challenge to the president takes not only a strong sense of humanity, but to use the famous word choice of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a United Nations speech, “cojones,” of which there seems to be a deficiency in Miami-Dade.
The answer here to Trump’s threats and the accompanying Jan. 25 executive order was immediate capitulation by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, quickly followed by a county commission vote 9-3 supporting Gimenez’s decision to cooperate with federal authorities.
Their sales pitch to the public: That essential transportation funding was on the line, a vote that morally amounts to trading immigrants for dollars.
What a difference their eager-beaver response is to Murray’s thoughtful defiance.
He minced no words explaining why Seattle is putting up a worthy fight, charging that the administration is “bullying” cities and “misstating the facts” to push through an anti-immigrant agenda.
“This week Attorney General Jeff Sessions told American cities that they’re breaking the law and making their communities unsafe,” Murray said at a news conference. “Apparently, the Trump administration, their war on facts, has now become a war on cities. Let me be clear about the facts: We are not breaking any laws and we are prioritizing safety.”
Murray emphasized what’s at the core of the message he’s sending: “Our values of inclusion, of community, our values are the values that we will stand by.”
I thought those were our values, too.
“When we welcome immigrants in our community, dedicate resources to helping immigrants on a pathway to citizenship, and warmly integrate immigrant children into our schools and classrooms, we do this because, as a welcoming city, it fosters safety.
“It’s when you marginalize people and drive them away from city services and make them fearful of the police that we push them underground and these communities become unsafe and the city of Seattle becomes unsafe.”
These are the words we should have heard loudly from the mayor and commissioners of Miami-Dade County, where 52 percent of the population is foreign-born and where so many are offspring of immigrants.
But what we heard were reiterations of falsehoods about crime, when plenty of studies have shown that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than natives and that net illegal immigration is near zero. The readiness to embrace Trump’s agenda has added to the immigrant community’s angst and fear.
Then again, this town has the dubious distinction of having a high number of Latino Trump supporters. Some of them are clueless people who show up at Trump rallies waving Cuban and Venezuelan flags as if they didn’t get the memo that, in Trump World, flying the flag of another nation is a no-no.
As for local officials, they may be in nonpartisan positions, but they act like what most are: party-loyal Republicans. The minute the master ordered, they were ready to oblige.
It’s a sad day when Seattle has to show Miami how to stand up for immigrant rights.
Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.