(TNS) — The Harford, Md., County Sheriff’s Office has renewed its agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, allowing its correctional deputies to interrogate, prepare charging documents for and transport undocumented immigrants pending ICE action, among other authorities.
Known as the 287(g) program, critics say it erodes minority communities’ trust in police and saps local budgets, stating it is not local law enforcement’s job to enforce federal immigration laws. Law enforcement participating in the program say it helps keep communities safe by keeping would-be repeat offenders off the streets.
Harford is one of three law enforcement agencies in Maryland — including Frederick and Cecil counties’ sheriff’s offices — that maintains such an agreement with ICE under a clause of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Harford’s sheriff’s office has participated in the program since October 2016, according to the memorandum of agreement, but the document needs to be renewed every three years. In Harford’s case, it was extended for a year in 2019 before being recently re-upped on June 26.
Under the agreement, correctional deputies are empowered to ask those in the Harford County Detention Center about their immigration status and process those arrested for violating local, state or federal law. Every person processed in the detention center is screened to ensure the program is unbiased, Harford sheriff’s office spokesperson Cristie Hopkins said.
Per the agreement, correctional deputies are able to exercise the limited immigration enforcement authority ICE delegates them during their normal duties at the detention center; deputies on the street do not have the same power.
Correctional deputes can also execute arrest and removal warrants at the time of a scheduled release from custody, turning undocumented residents over to immigration authorities. After transfer of custody to ICE, they can be held for no more than 48 hours in the county’s facilities, the memorandum states. Correctional deputies are also permitted to fingerprint, interview and collect evidence on undocumented immigrants for ICE review.
The memorandum also states that deputies participating in the program “must report all encounters with asserted or suspected claims of U.S. citizenship to ICE immediately, but generally within one hour of the claim.”
ICE pays for the sheriff’s personnel, training and deputies’ transportation when they are training, but the sheriff’s office is responsible for paying its personnel, benefits and overtime. The sheriff’s office also has to supply security equipment like handcuffs, leg restraints and the like.
Hopkins said the agreement is valuable as another tool for the office to keep crime at a low in Harford County.
“The 287(g) Program has helped identify those dangerous individuals who are in this Country illegally and committing crimes against the citizens of Harford County,” she wrote in an email. “In partnership with the Department of Homeland Security Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, detainers are filed against these offenders and they enter Federal immigrations court proceedings for potential removal, instead of being released back into the community to potentially victimize more individuals.”
As of this month, ICE had jail enforcement agreements like the one with Harford County with 74 law enforcement agencies in 21 states, including Maryland, according to the federal agency’s website. It also has warrant service officer agreements in place with 65 agencies in nine states.
In 2019, Harford deputies conducted interviews with 142 people who were jailed at the local detention center to determine whether they could be removed from the country, according to data supplied by the sheriff’s office in February. In 2018, they did 123 of those interviews.
Among the 191 foreign-born individuals the sheriff’s office encountered in 2018, there were 49 countries represented, according to figures the agency reported. The highest represented countries were Germany at 27 people, El Salvador with 21 and Mexico with 14 .
Of those 191 people, felony charges were filed against 23 of them; 168 were charged with misdemeanor crimes. That year, 43 detainers were lodged — requests signaling ICE’s desire to take custody of a person who is scheduled to be released from a local jail. Assault, failure to appear and drug charges were the most common charges that year.
Additional data about the program in 2019 and so far through 2020 were not immediately available, however, ICE files monthly encounter reports for the program on its website. The most recent report, from May, notes the Harford Sheriff’s correctional deputies on May 4 encountered a Honduras citizens who was arrested on an outstanding warrant for sexual abuse of a minor and sex offense.
The individual also had prior convictions and two violence protection orders entered against him, according to the report, and had entered the U.S. “on an unknown date and location without inspection.” Deputies placed an immigration detainer and warrant on the individual through the 287(g) program.
But cooperation with immigration authorities has opponents, including some in Maryland’s legislature.
In January, a coalition of Democrats introduced a bill in the House of Delegates that would limit law enforcement’s abilities to cooperate with ICE.
The bill would also make transferring a person to immigration authorities contingent on a federal judicial warrant authorizing ICE to take custody of a person. It would would bar law enforcement from asking a person’s country of birth or immigration status during a stop, search or arrest.
According to the Maryland General Assembly’s legislative tracker, the bill has been referred to committee. A representative from the office of the legislation’s sponsor, Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk’s office, said action on the bill was suspended when the General Assembly adjourned March 18.
No Harford legislators had signed on to co-sponsor the bill.
Sheriffs from Harford, Cecil and Frederick opposed the bill, speaking to lawmakers in Annapolis. There, Gahler said the bill would impose undue restrictions on law enforcement officers, averring that sanctuary policies make the county less safe. Supporters of the legislation argued that local law enforcement does not have a place enforcing federal immigration laws.
One of the largest detractors is CASA, an immigrant rights organization operating in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The organization successfully campaigned against a 287(g) program in Prince William County in Virginia, ending the sheriff’s office’s program in June.
Advocacy specialist for the organization John Cano said the Prince William County program was instituted to combat felonies, but some who fell into its sights were taken to the jail for minor offenses, where their immigration status was questioned. Beyond that, Prince William’s Latino and Black communities’ trust in police plummeted after the program was introduced, Cano said.
“We have seen that, particularly in Prince William County, where a lot of individuals who were detained were charged with drunk in public,” Cano said. “There have been instances where they have been taken to the adult detention center where their immigration status is checked upon.”
©2020 The Aegis (Bel Air, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.