Friday, May 23, 2008

Disputed initiative not part of arrest

Opponents used arrest to decry sheriff’s participation in program that helps identify, deport illegal immigrants arrested for other crimes

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Rosibel David stood at a podium earlier this month, tearfully recounting how a Frederick County Sheriff’s deputy arrested Alejandro Rocha — her partner, the father of her child — on April 28 and took him away.

Officials from Casa of Maryland and the Frederick County chapter of the NAACP surrounded her that day at Asbury United Methodist Church in Frederick, and used her story to illustrate what they think is wrong with a new initiative by the Sheriff’s Office that enables deputies to check the immigration status of everyone arrested at the county jail.

However, the new initiative, known as 287G, had nothing to do with Rocha’s arrest, The Gazette has learned from law enforcement officials. It was the Maryland State Police, which does not participate in the initiative.

‘‘This goes to show what I’ve been saying, that Casa de Maryland has been too quick to judge, and that Casa de Maryland has been quick to point the finger at the sheriff,” said Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R). ‘‘When you don’t have anything, it’s easy to throw out the race card because it sells newspapers.”

The initiative, 287G, is a partnership between the Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Twenty-six Frederick County deputies spent four weeks earlier this year learning immigration law and enforcement with ICE, so they could identify illegal immigrants arrested for other crimes and processed at the county jail to set them on the path toward deportation.

When contacted this week, both the NAACP and Casa were surprised to learn that Maryland State Police arrested Rocha, not a sheriff’s deputy operating within the 287G program.

‘‘This is a surprise to me,” said Guy Djoken, president of the Frederick County chapter of the NAACP. ‘‘This is very surprising. This is really unfortunate.”

Djoken was also surprised to learn that Rocha was not being held in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center. But after a brief silence, Djoken said the NAACP still stands by its claims that 287G will cause Hispanics to hide in fear and lead to racial profiling.

‘‘This doesn’t change our view that it is still bad for the community,” said Djoken, who plans to call the State Police and discuss his concerns over racial profiling of immigrants.

Kerri O’Brien, Casa’s manager of legal programs and a Maryland attorney, was also surprised. ‘‘We certainly had information that it was the sheriff,” O’Brien said. ‘‘It was Alejandro’s belief that it was Frederick County Sheriff’s deputies.”

Attempts to reach David through Casa failed.

However, William Canales, who Casa said was the driver of a car in which Rocha was a passenger, did speak to The Gazette.

Canales said he assumed sheriff’s deputies pulled him over, but that the officers did not tell him what law enforcement agency they were from. ‘‘They told me nothing,” he said. ‘‘The only thing they said when I asked why they were arresting me, is that they were doing their job, and the car was reported stolen.”

Canales said the car belonged to his sister, Patricia, who thought it was stolen and reported it; she did not call police back to report that the car had been found.

State Police released Canales, who said he is in the country legally, after determining the car was not stolen.

Confusion over the arrest

Still, confusion remains between law enforcement agencies as to what happened that day.

According to Greg Shipley, a Maryland State Police spokesman, ICE officials and the Frederick County Drug Task Force contacted state police on April 28 with the report of a stolen car. ICE officials asked state police to pull over the car, which was traveling on U.S. 40.

The trooper took the driver and two passengers, one of whom was Rocha, to the Frederick County Law Enforcement Center while he determined if the car was stolen.

Rocha and the other passenger did not have documentation that they were in the country legally, so state police turned them over to ICE officials, which is standard procedure, Shipley said.

An ICE official told a slightly different story.

‘‘Our office of investigation was contacted April 28 by the Maryland State Police after a traffic stop in Frederick,” said Pat Reilly, an ICE spokeswoman. ‘‘...Mr. Rocha was referred to ICE and determined that he was in the U.S. illegally, and we processed him for removal proceedings.”

Rocha is now in El Paso, Texas, awaiting a hearing to determine if he should be deported. ‘‘This wasn’t 287G,” Reilly said.

The Frederick County Adult Detention Center has no record of Rocha being in the jail because of the April 28 incident. ‘‘We did not handle the case,” said Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the detention center.