A doctor with an office near the Golden Mile in Frederick is sending a letter to Sheriff Chuck Jenkins calling on him to suspend an immigration enforcement program for 12 weeks in order to improve COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
Dr. Julio Menocal, who serves many minorities at his practice, said there is great fear among the local Latino community, with many members afraid to offer any information to receive a vaccine because of the risk of being detained and deported.
As a guest at County Executive Jan Gardner’s weekly COVID-19 press conference, Menocal called on the executive and the County Council to ask Jenkins (R) to end the 287(g) for 12 weeks, so he could vaccinate more people as his supply increases.
Gardner said in response that neither she nor any other county officials have the authority to force Jenkins to stop participating in the 287(g) program, per opinions from the state attorney general’s office.
The 287(g) program allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to train sheriff’s deputies to ask about the immigration status of anyone booked into the county’s adult detention center and begin deportation proceedings if necessary.
Menocal said Hispanics and Latinos have been fleeing the county in recent years, in part because of the program. He said he’s also heard from state officials that Hispanics from other jurisdictions are likely going to come to Frederick County to get vaccinated, so it would be a “good faith initiative” by the sheriff to pause the program in the name of public health.
He said it’s unlikely he’ll convince the sheriff to do so, but it’s on him to try.
“If we want to get people vaccinated — Hispanics in the county — one of the things is, you’re going to have to vaccinate them [at] younger [ages], and we’re going to hopefully give them the assurance for a period of time,” Menocal said after Thursday’s news conference. “But the sheriff has a right to say no. We’ll see what happens, but I owe it to my community to ask.”
Jenkins said in a brief phone call Thursday he has “no intention” of pausing the 287(g) program but still needed to review Gardner’s news conference.
In a follow-up email, he said he appreciated Menocal as a doctor and local health care provider but disagreed with suspending the program.
Menocal has been opposed to 287(g) since its beginnings in Frederick County, Jenkins wrote. He said the program doesn’t have anything to do with vaccine access or vaccine equity.
“The 287(g) Program is a detention center based program that has nothing to do with any individual or population going to a doctor and having access to the vaccine, or having access to any other government service,” Jenkins said. “Dr. Menocal is very aware of that fact. The 287(g) Program is not an obstacle for vaccinations for the Hispanic community as described by the doctor.
“Expanding on the equity issue, I have a real public safety concern about the way in which Dr. Menocal encourages Hispanics to get vaccinate[d] without identifying themselves or producing a social security number like everyone else in the general public,” the sheriff added. “Where is the equity for all of the public?”
County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said Thursday she has told Jenkins multiple times she disagrees with his use of the 287(g) program with ICE. But, she added, given the attorney general’s opinions, neither she nor council members have any authority over the sheriff.
Keegan-Ayer said she would try to convince Jenkins. She noted the sheriff released several prisoners from the detention center whom he deemed were not violent or a public safety threat to the community last year as the coronavirus pandemic was starting.
“I have been very upfront about the fact that I don’t support the program, but I also recognize my authority and where my authority stops,” Keegan-Ayer said. “So if I can get the sheriff to suspend the program for 12 weeks — if I can get him to suspend the program for six weeks — I am willing to do that.”
So far, Menocal said he has vaccinated more than 300 people and anticipates that number will grow significantly as his supply increases in the coming weeks. Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, the county health officer, said Menocal’s practice and Asbury United Methodist Church on West All Saints Street are planned as community vaccination clinics for the coming weeks.