Baltimore County Contemplating Jail Immigration Screenings

Credit:Chris Ryan
Credit:Chris Ryan

(ESPAÑOL) Baltimore County, Maryland, is holding a public hearing on the possibility of county jail immigration screenings.

The County Council’s three Republican members have proposed the measure requiring the county to join a federal program that trains correctional officers in basic immigration enforcement. After Tuesday’s hearing in Towson, the council could vote on the bill June 5.

Opponents of the bill — including the immigrant-rights group CASA, Jews United for Justice, the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union — are planning a rally in Towson’s Patriot Plaza before the hearing. Local chapters of the “Indivisible” movement that formed in response to President Donald Trump’s election victory also say they will be there.

Meanwhile, the libertarian group Campaign for Liberty has been encouraging supporters to email Democrats on the council to urge their support for the bill. Another group, Help Save Maryland, which is opposed to illegal immigration, is urging its members to attend the hearing.

The bill would require the county jail to participate in the federal immigration screening program known as 287(g). Jails in Frederick and Harford counties are the only ones in Maryland currently participating in the program, though Anne Arundel County is seeking to join.

In Frederick and Harford, those booked into the county jail are asked about their citizenship and country of birth, and answers to those questions can trigger further review by trained sheriff’s deputies. An agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes the final determination whether to refer the individual into immigration proceedings.

Supporters say the program is an easy and inexpensive way for local government to help enforce immigration law. Opponents argue it’s inappropriate for local jails to get involved in a federal issue.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh issued guidance this month noting that while it’s permissible for counties to join the 287(g) program, the federal government doesn’t necessarily pay for all of the costs. And he cautioned that the programs have the potential to open the door to illegal racial profiling.