By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
Two delegates from opposite parties are advocating two completely different approaches to address how extensively local law enforcement agencies should cooperate with a federal program that identifies people for deportation as soon as they are arrested.
Since 2008, local law agencies across the nation have served as an arm of Secure Communities, a federal program that results in hundreds of thousands of deportations every year, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) estimates.
Local agencies are required to participate in the program by sending fingerprints of arrestees to immigration officials, but they are not required to honor immigrant detainers issued by ICE that allow local police to hold a suspected illegal immigrant for 48 hours.
Bills would take discretion away from local police
A bill sponsored by Montgomery County Democrat Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez would prevent local government or law enforcement officials from holding suspected illegal immigrants solely on the basis of enforcing an immigrant detainer notice from ICE.
Abiding by an immigration detainer is discretionary, Gutierrez stressed during her testimony on the bill, HB 29, to the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. The bill would also prevent a judge from denying bail exclusively on the basis of an immigrant detainer.
Republican Del. Patrick McDonough,who represents Baltimore and Harford counties, is taking the opposite approach. His bill, HB 1003, would mandate law enforcement hold an illegal alien on the basis of the immigrant detainer.
As a part of Secure Communities, local police scan fingerprints upon arrest, and automatically forward them to ICE’s parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, which checks the arrestee's status as an illegal immigrant. Immigrant detainers issued as part of the program allow ICE time to investigate immigration status further, and can last longer than 48 hours because that limit does not include Saturdays, Sundays or holidays.
According to ICE’s website, Secure Communities’ mission is to weed out illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. But the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland estimated 43% of those deported since Secure Communities’ inception in Maryland had no criminal convictions.
Bills could have impact on victims reporting crimes
Gutierrez said immigrants are fearful to approach local law enforcement, anxious that because of Secure Communities, reporting a crime might cost them their residency in the country, and that they would be torn from their families.
“More and more of immigrant communities do not trust our law enforcement,” she said. “That’s the problem we’re trying to address.”
Various law enforcement leaders from Maryland’s municipalities were mixed in their support.
“When immigrants decide not to report crimes to a police department, it contributes to crimes of violence,” Baltimore Police Capt. Martin Bartness said, supporting the bill during Thursday’s hearing. “It lets offenders go free.”
In the past decade, the population of Baltimore’s Hispanic community has tripled, Bartness said. That led Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to issue an executive order in 2012 that dictated government officials and city police could not inquire about a crime victim’s or a tipper’s immigration status.
The Maryland Troopers Association objected to the Gutierrez bill, saying it would prevent troopers from doing their jobs.
“The bill requires that the law enforcement in this state ignore a federal detainer or a federal administrative warrant,” they wrote in their submitted testimony.
Not all warrants enforced by a court or ICE are criminal, which can be confusing, said Sirine Shebaya, immigrants’ rights attorney for the ACLU.
Gutierrez’s bill would not exempt those illegal immigrants with a criminal warrant, nor a civil administrative ICE warrant, which is issued when an individual is suspected of civil immigration violation. Simply being an illegal immigrant is a civil charge.
Delegate concerned pro-immigrant bill could violate the constitution, federal law
McDonough said in an interview that Gutierrez’s bill might be unconstitutional.
“We’re not just dealing with one law -- Secure Communities,” he said. “We’re dealing with a multitude of laws. The proposal in essence by Del. Gutierrez is mandating the officer violate the federal law.”
Michael Bekesha, an attorney from watchdog group Judicial Watch, said his organization is backing McDonough because they support legislation in step with federal law.
McDonough criticized Maryland’s status as a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants.
Some Maryland law favors immigrants. In 2012, voters approved the DREAM Act, which grants in-state tuition to undocumented college students. Maryland drivers licenses may also be issued to illegal immigrants if they have filed tax returns for at least two years.
This saps resources from native residents, said McDonough, who has conducted a long crusade against illegal immigration.
“If I were an illegal, I’d have to be stupid not to come to Maryland,” he said.