A job for the feds

Our view : Frederick deputies shouldn't act as immigration officers

May 10, 2008

If you want an example of a cure that makes the disease worse, look no further than Frederick County Sheriff Charles "Chuck" Jenkins' approach to the problem of illegal immigration.

The Sheriff's Department, by entering into a partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has become the first local police agency in Maryland - and one of about 50 nationwide - to enter the thicket of immigration enforcement. We hope it doesn't start a trend in this state.

Crime is reduced, and more easily solved, when residents trust the police; the Frederick County policy encourages the exact opposite.

Under the first phase of the plan, which is now in effect, 16 members of the Sheriff's Department - trained and supervised by federal immigration enforcement staff - are authorized to investigate the citizenship status of suspects after they are arrested and brought to the county detention center.

But why should Frederick County deputies take valuable time away from serious police work in order to spend it determining a suspect's country of origin or scrutinizing potentially fraudulent citizenship papers? That administrative task properly belongs to the federal government, which has been doing such work for decades.

The second phase, which has yet to take effect, is even more problematic. It will allow for a cadre of 10 officers to perform immigration-related work when responding to service calls. They will be authorized to perform citizenship checks on suspects, witnesses, victims - anyone in the vicinity of a crime scene who arouses an officer's suspicions.

This cannot help but have a chilling effect on relations between police officers and Frederick County's growing Latino community - and for no discernible gain.

With such a policy in place, will a victim of domestic violence be less likely to call 911 for fear of being deported? Sheriff's Capt. Tim Clarke notes that immigration law gives crime victims some protection from deportation, and he says Frederick deputies will use compassion and judgment in exercising their newfound powers.

We don't doubt him on that, but it is naive to expect a frightened, battered woman to be up to speed on the finer points of victims' rights and immigration law.

She won't make that call. The sheriff's policy will only drive her and other illegal immigrants further into the shadows, where they will be more vulnerable to economic and criminal predation.

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