A federal push to soften a program that deports illegal immigrants will have little bearing on the way Frederick County deputies approach the matter, according to Sheriff Charles A. ‘Chuck’ Jenkins (R).
“This is nothing more than national politics at work, a lot of smoke and mirrors,” Jenkins said. “[President Barack] Obama is pandering to the Latino community. I don’t think there will be wholesale change, and I don’t think [287(g)] will go away.”
The 287(g) program partners local and federal law enforcement to enforce immigration policy. Jenkins brought the program to Frederick County in 2008, and his agency is the only participant in Maryland.
In response to criticism that the program encourages unlawful racial profiling and deports people accused of minor offenses, the Department of Homeland Security initiated some changes beginning in 2009, including detaining and deporting only those who have been accused of more serious crimes. Of the 761 illegal immigrants arrested between 2008 and 2010 in Frederick County under 287(g), 694 were arrested for misdemeanors and 67 involved felonies. Of the 694 misdemeanors, 322 were for driving without a license.
In a public statement in December, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said, “DHS will utilize federal resources for the purpose of identifying and detaining those individuals who meet U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's immigration enforcement priorities.”
Although Jenkins is not changing his approach, he concedes “some of the people are being cut loose.”
To date, Jenkins said, his deputies have processed paperwork for 1,009 illegal immigrants who were arrested. Of those, 971 detainees were turned over to ICE. As of a year ago, 90 percent of those detained eventually were deported.
This summer, ICE initiated a two-month pilot program at Frederick County’s jail that did not allow police to detain anyone identified as an illegal immigrant arrested on traffic charges or minor offenses unless the person had a warrant or a prior conviction. Between June 25 and Aug. 25, five illegal immigrants were released by the District Court Commissioner on their own recognizance.
Since then, Jenkins said, it is business as usual at the sheriff’s office. His agency has not been asked to make those changes permanent. Instead, he said, his agency has been encouraged to invoke prosecutorial discretion when processing aliens that have been arrested and charged with minor offenses.
No formal policy is in place directing his office to work any differently than it has since 2008, Jenkins said.
Ten deputies are trained to determine immigration status and take care of the associated paperwork at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center. An ICE supervisor reviews the entire file and decides to detain and remove arrestees.
No immigration work is done on the streets, Jenkins said. Those who are arrested are not being profiled, and their offenses would lead anyone to jail.
“These are arrestable offenses, whether they are felonies, misdemeanors or traffic offenses,” Jenkins said.
Casa of Maryland has been a vocal opponent of the 287(g) program and of Jenkins since 2008. Gustavo Andrade, its organizing director, said that the immigration community needs clarity on the issue, and called DHS and ICE agencies “in disarray.”
“I think that there’s a disconnect between the president’s priorities on immigration and the way the DHS is implementing those standards,” Andrade said.
Despite the criticisms lobbed at the program by Casa, civil liberties groups, and the OIG, the program works in Frederick , according to Jenkins. ICE deported 30 gang members who were illegal immigrants. As for those who easily return, such as the suspect in a murder in Frederick last year, Jenkins blames the lack of action on the U.S. borders.
“They haven’t solved the problem at the border. They haven’t done a damned thing about it,” he said.