There’s nothing like Miami during spring break: the sun, the sea, the clubs, the asinine fealty to federal deportation policies that are not only inhumane but are also, many police chiefs agree, bad for public safety.
Late last week, the Miami-Dade County Commission upheld 9–3 Mayor Carlos Giménez’s recent decision to comply with the Trump administration’s Jan. 25 executive order on immigration, exposing local undocumented residents to deportation as “criminal aliens” even if they’ve not been convicted. The county, which includes the city of Miami, was the first American jurisdiction to publicly buckle under threats that the federal government would cut off funding to communities that act as “sanctuaries” for immigrants who are in the country illegally.
So what can concerned Americans do about this? Simple: They can boycott Miami—and vacation elsewhere.
While the term “sanctuary” is murky, the Justice Department uses it to refer to jurisdictions in which local law enforcement refuse federal requests to detain immigrants who’ve been arrested but are not facing time for that infraction. Some jails will only comply with a detainer request when the inmate has prior felony convictions or is a suspected terrorist. (This was basically Miami’s stance until recently.) Others reject every detainer request, because if immigrants are afraid to talk to the police, they can’t do their jobs.
Miami-Dade’s mayor doesn’t think those concerns are worth paying a federal fine. “I want to make sure we don’t put in jeopardy the [$355 million] of funds we get from the federal government for a $52,000 issue,” said Giménez, who is a Republican, in the Miami Herald, weighing federal grants’ value against the cost of locking up immigrants for the feds to come get them. Miami-Dade, whose population is 51 percent foreign-born, sold out its undocumented residents for some spare change.
Because while $355 million is a lot of cash, it’s a paltry part of the county’s $7.15 billion budget. On top of that, whether the federal government can strip all grants from cities that don’t share immigration status information with the feds is legally questionable. And, of course, civil liberties are priceless.
$355 million is also nothing compared to what this bad decision could cost Miami-Dade if conscientious travelers decided to skip its beaches this spring break in protest. Miami-Dade brought in $23.8 billion in tourist revenue in 2015 ($2.3 billion from New Yorkers alone). So what if we stopped going?
The average Miami visitor lays out $1,600 per trip, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. If only 221,876 people made alternate travel plans this year, Miami would lose more in traveler dollars than it collects in federal grants.
We know that national place-based boycotts can influence local policy. Last year North Carolina alienated companies, musicians, and sports leagues with its discriminatory anti-trans bathroom law, seeing some $500 million in anticipated revenue disappear. Those losses compelled citizens and the business community to push for the law to be overturned (though a recalcitrant legislature has since suspended that process).
How much would it cost for mayor Giménez to get the message? $400 million—or 250,000 no-shows out of an annual 15.5 million visitors? $800 million? Tourists have the power to make it more expensive for cities to forsake undocumented residents than to shield them.
They can also do something more painful. Lost income is only one reason such efforts succeed. Boycotts damage brands—not irrevocably but deeply while they last. And Miami, much more so than North Carolina, is a brand.
Skipping South Beach doesn’t mean the conscientious tourist must forgo a sunny vacation—even one in Florida. Other counties, like Broward and Palm Beach, won’t honor federal detainer requests unless they’re accompanied by a deportation order or warrant, and they should be rewarded for keeping those policies. Those places and others have golden sands and other Miami-esque offerings, from party town Panama City to charming Delray Beach. And if the administration does attempt to strip sanctuary cities of funding, an uptick of visitors to other Florida locales could help offset the budgetary hurt.
There are, of course, pitfalls to place-based boycotts. They often impact the wrong people: Reducing Miami-Dade’s tourism during high season would hurt workers—especially in the service sector, which is heavily staffed by immigrants. And the tit-for-tat aspect, rewarding “sanctuary cities” while punishing anti-immigrant jurisdictions, will be hard to get right, too. Neither Broward nor Palm Beach counties have openly declared themselves sanctuaries (like, say, New York and San Francisco), though the Justice Department says they are and they’re certainly more protective of undocumented immigrants than Miami.
Meanwhile, even sanctuary city status leaves undocumented immigrants vulnerable. As Daniel Denvir recently wrote in Slate, “The fingerprints police collect when booking someone into custody are automatically shared with federal immigration authorities. … ICE agents can then find that person, detain them, and deport them … anywhere in the United States regardless of whether local officials are cooperating.” Undocumented immigrants in New York City charged with a misdemeanor and then released for low-level offenses, like jumping a subway turnstile or selling loose cigarettes, are nearly as exposed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement as Miami’s detainees. They’re simply harder for immigration authorities to find than the folks Miami has helpfully held in jail cells.
Still, in these frantic times, defiant sanctuary cities will be a bulwark against Trump’s plans, and they play an important symbolic role. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh declaring he would harbor immigrants in City Hall? That felt good. New York City’s mayor vowing to “defend all of our people regardless of where they come from”? It girded people to resist the administration’s goal of deporting 3 million residents for a fight. And both declarations reassured undocumented immigrants that while they face an increasingly hostile federal government, their local leaders are in their corner.
Boycotting Miami and other locales that comply with federal detainer requests won’t be enough. But if mayors like Giménez are calculating their stances on immigration enforcement in financial terms, they ought to experience financial consequences. And the Americans best positioned to deliver that lesson are spring-breakers.
So go to the beach next week—just don’t go to Miami.