With all the issues facing Frederick County in 2019, one constantly drew the attention of its residents: immigration.
The issue split residents into those who believed county officials should be more inviting to immigrants, versus those who feel current programs and policy help keep the county safe from threats posed by those who live here illegally.
The program at the center of this debate was the 287(g) program, one put in place under Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and his office. The program allows 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.
The Frederick News-Post wrote dozens of stories pertaining to the program in 2019. Opponents of the program are skeptical of its effectiveness and believe it scares the immigrant community from reporting crime in their neighborhoods; supporters say the program has taken hundred of violent criminals off the streets and is a major reason Frederick County is a safe place to live versus other jurisdictions located east of the county.
Local, state and federal politicians have also taken an interest in the impact the 287(g) program is having in Frederick County. In early August, County Executive Jan Gardner and County Council leadership announced an audit into how much the program is costing the county. That audit is still being conducted.
Later that month, Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General. The scope of that letter asked whether Jenkins and his office should be holding public steering committees as part of the 287(g) agreement with ICE. It's unclear whether the Inspector General has reviewed that request.
And in September, Del. Karen Lewis Young and Sen. Ron Young sent a letter to the state Attorney General asking for clarification on county government's role in the 287(g) program, along with similar inquiries. It's also unclear what, if anything, might come of that letter.
During much of last year, residents showed up at county council meetings to either express support or opposition to Jenkins and the 287(g) program. And in early October, hundreds gathered in opposing rallies both in support of the program and those in support of the local immigrant community.
Immigration should again be at the forefront of county politics in 2020, with it being a presidential election year. For his part, Jenkins has been a frequent visitor to the White House to discuss immigration policy and reform with President Donald Trump.
The results of the 2020 election could hint at what's to come for local elections in 2022 and the future of the 287(g) program in Frederick County.