Policy raises ire in W. Md.

Frederick deputies ask detainees about immigration status

May 07, 2008|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

FREDERICK - Frederick County sheriff's deputies have become the first Maryland law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they arrest, a move authorities say is a necessary tool for policing, but one that has sparked an outcry from advocates who say the policy is costly and encourages ethnic profiling.

CASA of Maryland, the state's largest immigrant advocacy group, held a news conference yesterday at which it released a report estimating the policy could cost the county $3.2 million a year. Opponents called for an end to the program, which is the result of an agreement signed Feb. 6 between the Frederick County Sheriff's Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

CASA's estimate of the cost of the policy took into account increased police training, staffing, detention costs and the possibility of a drain on the county's foster care system if immigrant parents are detained.

County Commissioner Charles A. Jenkins said later that he doubted the veracity of CASA's figures and supports the sheriff's efforts. He said the county is reimbursed by the federal government for detaining immigrants.

"They're not knocking on doors, saying 'show me your papers,' " Jenkins said. "Legal taxpayers do not need to worry about this. ... Illegal immigration costs us a lot, and we have limited resources here. I am not interested in becoming a sanctuary county."

The issue reflects intense debate over immigration in the county, which has the fastest-growing immigrant population in Maryland. The county's foreign-born population increased from 4 percent in 2000 to 9 percent in 2006, according to U.S. Census estimates, with the majority of the influx being Latino.

In the fall, Jenkins proposed a law that would deny county services, including schooling, to immigrants who entered the country illegally. The measure failed. Then two weeks ago, commissioners proposed a measure to require all county documents to be written in English only. The effort failed, and instead commissioners adopted a largely symbolic resolution proclaiming English as the county's primary language of communication.

Kerry O'Brien, legal director at CASA, said immigrants have become scapegoats in Frederick and in other places where restrictive local immigration policies have been passed, such as Prince William County, Va., where stringent immigration enforcement has ignited fierce debate.

"Frederick is definitely the farthest out in its sentiment against immigrants and basically showing little appreciation to the contributions that immigrants have made, such as in the construction boom," she said. "No one complains when immigrants contribute to the economy, but all of a sudden, people have become organized around blaming any particular problem on immigrants." During the question-and-answer portion of the news conference, Frederick resident Richard Schultz stunned immigration-rights advocates by launching into personal complaints about illegal immigration in the county.

"What do you say to the burden on the typical American worker whose wages are cut under by illegal aliens?" he said. "Illegal aliens should be getting out of the country, going to the back of the line and doing things the right way."

CASA officials, who were joined by the head of the Frederick NAACP, church leaders and other local immigrant advocates, also warned the policy could chill police-community relations and criticized Frederick County Sheriff Charles "Chuck" Jenkins for signing the agreement without holding a community meeting first.

Sheriff Jenkins declined to comment on the report, saying through a spokesman that he wanted time to review it.

Since the agreement with ICE was signed, 16 corrections officers and 10 deputies have completed four weeks of training in two parts of the policy, said Capt. Tim Clarke. The first allows corrections officers to check the immigration status of anyone arrested. That portion of the program began April 1 and has resulted in 14 inmates being detained for further review and possible deportation by immigration agents, Clarke said.

The second portion of the program, which allows deputies to ask the immigration status of people when responding to a call for service, has not started, he said.

Clarke said that in the past, if deputies believed a suspect was an illegal immigrant, officers would call ICE agents in Baltimore to help investigate the case. But often, the agents, short on staff, would not be able to intervene, he said.

"It's another tool for law enforcement officers to use on the street," he said. "It's a resource for them, whereas we didn't have that before."

Rosibel David blames the policy for tearing apart her family and creating fear for immigrants throughout Frederick County. Last Monday, sheriff's deputies stopped and detained the man whom her 5-year-old calls his father, Alejandro Rocha, on an immigration violation. He was a passenger in a car that had been reported stolen, David said. The family lost its main breadwinner, was evicted and forced to move in with friends, relying on their kindness and financial support, David said.

David said when her son sees a police cruiser he cries to his mother, "Is that the one who took my dad?"

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

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