Hartford County to Begin Screening for Immigration Status

(ESPAÑOL) The Hartford County sheriff’s office has joined a controversial federal program to check the immigration status of the people it takes into custody.

The sheriff’s office is one of fewer than three dozen local law enforcement agencies around the country — and only the second in Maryland — to sign on to the program operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security, will train and supervise 10 deputies at the county’s detention center in Bel Air to screen for undocumented immigrants who may have committed serious crimes.

A similar arrangement has been in place in Frederick County since 2008.

The 287(g) agreement signed by Harford County last week is one of several ways ICE prevails upon local law enforcement agencies to help it enforce federal immigration law. Officials in Anne Arundel County are negotiating with ICE to hold undocumented immigrants at its Ordnance Road Correctional Center in Glen Burnie.

Advocates for immigrants say such cooperation endangers undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to the community. They say immigrants who fear that police will check their status will be less likely to call them in times of need.

Under 287(g), officials say, deputies will screen people who have been arrested when they first come into the local jail. Anyone who is in the country illegally and has committed a crime that threatens public safety, national security or border security is turned over to federal immigration authorities.

That’s a narrower application of the program than is permitted under federal law. The program allows ICE to train local agencies to screen the immigration status of offenders at any point in day-to-day law enforcement.

In Frederick County, sheriffs deputies have detained more than 1,400 people under 287(g) since 2008, ICE said.

Frederick County’s program is one of many around the country to face criticism and legal challenge.

The Los Angeles County sheriff’s office stopped participating in 287(g) last year. The office settled a claim the ACLU filed on behalf of a California man who was detained under the program but is a U.S. citizen. His lawyers said the case amounted to racial profiling.

As Harford County joined the program last week, officials said it should not stir opposition.

“Immigration is a very emotional, controversial subject right now, we all know that — it’s probably the biggest issue facing this country right now,” said Tom Homan, executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations. “Something that isn’t controversial is protecting public safety.”