A pro-immigrant group is looking to hit the Frederick County Sheriff's Office in the pocketbook by asking the county to reallocate money from the office's budget that goes toward the controversial 287(g) program.
Members of the RISE Coalition organized a driving protest through parts of Frederick Monday. The 287(g) program is an agreement between the sheriff's office and U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement, allowing trained deputies to check the immigration status of those booked in the county jail, and begin deportation proceedings if necessary.
RISE is calling for the money that goes to the program to be used for purposes including helping immigrant families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We call on our County to stop funding the demonization and criminalization of immigrants of color, and to finally start investing in them, that begins with defunding the 287(g) ICE contract,” the group said in a statement.
Neither Sheriff Chuck Jenkins nor a sheriff's office spokeswoman responded to requests for comment Monday.
Sebastian Brown, a RISE member and organizer with the ACLU of Maryland, said they're looking at how to shift resources away from profiling and over-policing and toward programs that support families in need.
Money from the 287(g) program and about $2 million that Jenkins returns to the county each year could be better used by mental health crisis workers and other social services.
As volunteers gathered in a parking lot in Frederick's Hillcrest neighborhood and taped signs to their cars preparing for Monday's protest caravan, Jazmin diCola said she wanted to help give a voice to people who don't have one.
Her father brought her and her family to the U.S. legally when she was 10, she said, but she knows others weren't so lucky.
Now the immigrant community is even more vulnerable because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is more like a forgotten community,” she said.
RISE member Maria Rodriguez said she saw the plight of undocumented families when she worked as a volunteer at her child's school.
Undocumented herself, to be in the U.S. in that situation “is to feel totally discarded, as though you're less than a human being,” Rodriguez said through an interpreter.
They're calling on the community to demand that the county executive and county council end support for the 287(g) program, she said.
But it may not be so easy.
Council members and County Executive Jan Gardner have maintained that Jenkins is an elected official, and although they allocate money to the sheriff's office, his duties are laid out in the state constitution, and he answers directly to county voters.
The council gets emails about what other counties are doing, and asking why Frederick can't do the same, said County Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater, who attended Monday's protest.
But unlike some other counties, law enforcement and corrections in Frederick County are both under the sheriff's authority.
And while the council can cut from the county executive's proposed budget, they can't shift money around, Fitzwater said.
If things were cut, the sheriff's office would have to determine what its priorities are, she said.