WASHINGTON — — Gov. Martin O'Malley says he will speak with the secretary of homeland security about a controversial federal program that appears to be deporting an unusually large percentage of immigrants without criminal records from Maryland.
O'Malley raised questions about the Secure Communities program last week in a letter to Secretary Jeh Johnson. The two already were scheduled to attend a meeting as part of a gathering of the National Governors Association that began here this week.
O'Malley said Friday he hadn't received a response to his letter yet, but added: "I will be meeting with the secretary … and I plan to talk about it."
Under the Secure Communities program, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement generally focuses enforcement efforts on dangerous criminals who are in the country illegally. But in Maryland, a Baltimore Sun analysis found, more than 40 percent of immigrants who have been deported since 2009 had no prior criminal record — a far greater share than the national average.
O'Malley, a Democrat who is considering a run for president in 2016, has attended several high-profile events as part of the Governors Association's annual winter meeting.
He took part in two sessions at the White House that were focused at least in part on raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. In one of those meetings, President Barack Obama recognized O'Malley along with other governors who are pressing to raise wages in their states.
"This is not just good policy, it also happens to be good politics, because the truth of the matter is the overwhelming majority of Americans think that raising the minimum wage is a good idea," Obama said before the meeting got underway.
Obama and other Democrats in Washington have sought to raise the minimum wage for more than a year. The effort has faced opposition from congressional Republicans. That resistance was bolstered by a study released this week in which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found a wage increase would cost the economy about 500,000 jobs.
Democrats are focused on another part of that study: The CBO also found an increase would raise incomes for more than 16 million Americans.
O'Malley has been pushing the Maryland General Assembly during this year's session to raise the state's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
"We understand that prosperity does not trickle down from the top, and it never has," he said. "Prosperity is built from the middle out and from the middle up."
The agenda for the bipartisan governors meeting includes discussions about transportation, disaster preparedness, early childhood education and the economy.
O'Malley and Johnson will be among those attending a Council of Governors meeting Monday. That bipartisan group, of which O'Malley serves as a co-chair, is focused on defense and homeland security.
In a letter sent Feb. 11, O'Malley asked Johnson that Homeland Security detail, within 10 days, the basis for removing low-level criminals or noncriminals from Baltimore, where the state manages the local jail.
He also sought an analysis to explain why Maryland appears to be deporting a higher share of those immigrants and a summary of any policy changes to address the issue.
The governor has signaled that he is weighing legislation in the General Assembly that would limit the circumstances under which local jails could hold immigrants who have not previously been convicted of serious crimes. The Democratic governors of California and Connecticut have signed similar measures recently.
As he stood outside the White House on Friday, O'Malley couldn't escape the speculation about his future. He was asked by a reporter whether he had "any thoughts" on the next presidential election.
"No," the governor said, smiling, just before the news conference ended.