Critics of Frederick County’s controversial immigration enforcement program called for independent oversight of it at a combative 287(g) steering committee meeting Wednesday night.
Supporters and critics of the 287(g) program met with Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, sheriff’s deputies and officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to learn about the county’s cooperation with federal immigration officials and ask questions. Under the 287(g) agreement, sheriff’s deputies may inquire about the immigration status of all people booked into the Frederick County Adult Detention Center and hold inmates on ICE detainers.
At dual rallies before the steering committee meeting, critics of the 287(g) program, including the American Civil Liberties Union and local groups such as CASA, Showing Up for Racial Justice, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Caucus of African American Leaders, protested in front of Winchester Hall in areas set apart by police tape from program advocates who were also there to rally.
Each side at times seemed unwilling to listen to the other. Some shouted over each other and one man could be heard saying, “Thank God I can’t hear what they’re saying,” of speeches on the opposing side.
There was some agreement, however, among some of the participants. Some people on either side of the issue said they believed that convicted violent criminals should be a priority for deportation.
Dorothy Herrera-Niles, director of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations for the Baltimore Field Office, noted that anyone in the country illegally was subject to deportation and, with the rollback of the Obama administration’s priorities, ICE’s priorities were now driven by resources and the circumstances of each case.
Members of Safe Haven Frederick, a group dedicated to inclusion and community engagement, asked if there had been an audit of the program. Herrera-Niles said the operation was evaluated by a separate arm of ICE, the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Alicia Barmon, founder of Safe Haven Frederick, asked the ICE officials about the training and overtime costs associated with the program. The agency covers those costs and the expenses related to holding ICE detainees, they said. The sheriff’s office is reimbursed at a rate of $83 per prisoner per day.
“Shouldn’t there be some closer analysis of those costs?” activist Kimberly Mellon asked.
Herrera-Niles said she would pass along the call for an independent audit to the agency.
Jenkins said he would not agree to any kind of audit unless there was a clear need for it, which he didn’t see given the oversight already in place.
He called the program effective and said he would support it as long as he was sheriff.
Maj. Michael Cronise shared statistics and anecdotes about the program in a brief presentation before taking questions.
The Frederick County Adult Detention Center handled 1,478 ICE detainers from 2008 to May 31, 2017. Many, 867, were held as a result of Frederick Police Department arrests. Of the people held, 60 were believed to be affiliated with gangs.
The largest portion of people detained at ICE’s request originated from El Salvador, according to sheriff’s office reports.
The number of people held on immigration charges in cooperation with ICE increased from 342 in 2012 to 461 in 2014. That figure fell to 317 in 2015, according to the most recently available Frederick County Sheriff’s Office report online.
The hearing became emotional during the question-and-answer portion, with supporters of the program cheering Jenkins and booing critics as those opposed to 287(g) spoke of children and immigrant communities traumatized by fear of deportation.
Jenkins and Herrera-Niles at times had to remind the crowd to be respectful of one another.
One woman’s voice shook as she spoke about threats that her third-generation Mexican-American daughter had received in the wake of President Donald Trump’s rise to power from campaigning on immigration issues.
Supporters of the program asked the crowd to consider the stories of victims of crimes committed by people in the country illegally.
When asked about the possibility that the program made immigrants afraid to report crimes, Jenkins said that “chilling effect” didn’t exist. When questioned further, he was unable to cite support for that statement, but he later mentioned a Center for Immigration Studies report from 2011 that said enforcement had limited impact on crime reporting in the immigrant community. The Center for Immigration Studies has generally called for low levels of immigration.
Ann Matheson, a retired teacher, said she came to the rally and meeting because she was worried about how the program affected children. She said she was aware that some families were afraid because of the policy.
“I am fundamentally opposed to the involvement of local police in ICE activities,” the Frederick County resident said. “I’m hoping to get rid of 287(g) in Frederick County.”
Gail Weiss came from Montgomery County to show her support for the program.
“I believe in law and order and I believe in following the law,” she said.
When asked how she responded to the argument that the program splits up families, she said, “They’re splitting up their own family.”
Jenkins remained unmoved by the opposition.
“There’s no basis for criticism. This is about enforcing the law. These groups don’t want you to enforce the law,” he said in a phone interview before the meeting.
Frederick County Councilman Kirby Delauter issued a statement in support of the 287(g) Program before the meeting.
“I never want to see Frederick County become a sanctuary county. Should the county ever travel down that path, it would then be refusing to enforce the law and risking millions of dollars in federal funding in the process,” said Delauter, who announced last month that he will run for county executive in 2018.