Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Sheriff mad about Hitler comment

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Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins is angry at comments made by groups opposed to his new initiative to train deputies to check the immigration status of people they arrest.

Jenkins (R) said Wednesday that comments made during a press conference Tuesday by the Frederick County chapter of the NAACP, Casa De Maryland and others were intended to frighten the Hispanic community. ‘‘The comments from the NAACP were totally inappropriate,” he said.

‘‘...I really think Casa De Maryland is inciting fear. They are the ones who are really being unfair.”

Kerri O’Brien, Casa De Maryland’s manager of legal programs and a Maryland attorney, disputed statements that the initiative would cost taxpayers nothing.

O’Brien said a similar program in Arkansas ended up costing about $7.9 million.

Jenkins also took issue with comments from Lord Nickens, a civil rights activist and former president of the Frederick County Chapter of the NAACP.

Nickens said at the press conference that Jenkins has been holding ‘‘secret meetings” to discuss rounding up immigrants, and he compared the initiative to Adolf Hitler and his regime in Nazi Germany.

‘‘I’m being attacked for enforcing the law,” Jenkins said. ‘‘For people to call me a racist and Hitler is ludicrous. ... Mr. Nickens’ assertion that I’m holding secret meetings is an outrage.”

Nickens is not backing down from his comments. He said Wednesday that he believes the sheriff is holding secret meetings.

‘‘He can’t get away from it,” Nickens said. ‘‘He’s upset? He’s dealing with people’s lives. The same thing happened to blacks. This is the same type of rhetoric that Hitler used.”

For months, Jenkins has been meeting openly with residents around Frederick County.

He said a lot of what he hears are questions about what he will do with a growing population of illegal immigrants who are committing crimes in the county. ‘‘This is what I’m hearing,” he said.

To address the situation, Jenkins has been meeting with bureau officials since September in attempts to become accepted into the 287G program, which allows his deputies to check the immigration status of the people they arrest.

At a press conference Monday, Jenkins announced that 26 of his deputies began four weeks of training at the Frederick County Law Enforcement Center. The deputies will be trained in immigration law, intercultural relations and the use of the Department of Homeland Security’s database to positively identify whether those they arrest are illegal immigrants.

Several Virginia police officers — one from the Manassas Police Department, one from Manassas Park Police, six from the Prince William County Police Department and two deputies from the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office — are also taking part in the training.

Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are conducting the training.

Under the program, deputies and officers at the Frederick County Detention Center will work with ICE investigators to determine the immigration status of people they arrest.

If suspects are found to be here illegally, they will go before a federal administrative law judge, who will determine if the individual should be deported. The Sheriff’s Office does not have the authority to deport on its own, said Calvin McCormick, an ICE field office director.

Jenkins has his supporters.

‘‘I think this is a great day for Frederick County,” said Commissioner Charles A. Jenkins (R). ‘‘I’m very proud of what he has been able to accomplish. I think it will have positive effects for Frederick County.”

Jenkins, the only commissioner who attended Monday’s press conference, tried unsuccessfully last year to pass a bill that would require all county-funded agencies to first verify that the people they help are in the country legally.

Like the sheriff, Commissioner Jenkins was met with resistance from Hispanic residents and interest groups. On Tuesday, groups opposed to the sheriff’s initiative gathered for a press conference at Ashbury United Methodist Church in Frederick. They expressed fear that legal immigrants will be targeted.

‘‘We need to be able to train local citizens to monitor the Sheriff’s Office,” said the Rev. Burton L. Mack of Ashbury United Methodist. ‘‘I’m concerned about whether they [sheriff deputies] will be trained effectively.”

Nickens compared the initiative to his experiences as a young black man living in Frederick County. ‘‘I know what it is like to be without a country, because we blacks couldn’t even walk in the streets with certain people,” he said.

Roberto Juarez of Frederick, who when asked would not answer whether he was in the country legally, expressed fear of the police. ‘‘From my experiences, I have learned to distrust the police,” Juarez said. ‘‘Yesterday, I realized my family is not welcomed here.”

Juarez was referring to the sheriff’s announcement.

Guy Djoken, president of the Frederick County Chapter of the NAACP, said several times that his group is not against deporting illegal immigrants who commit crimes. ‘‘We are not here against the idea of exporting criminals,” he said. ‘‘We are not opposed to the fact that the sheriff would like to take out the criminals. ... We just want to make sure that it is being done with due process and that they are found guilty in a court of law. ... We all want a civil community.”