Sheriff Chuck Jenkins ended up with two suspected cartel hitmen in his Frederick County, Maryland, jail last week. Maryland State Police made the arrests after discovering drugs and guns in their vehicle.
Jenkins said the only way that jail officers were able to determine the two men were in the United States illegally and were alleged hitmen was through his county’s cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
But, Jenkins said, that cooperation could soon be blocked if a raft of new bills pass the Maryland legislature—effectively rendering Maryland a sanctuary state for illegal aliens, by shielding them from immigration authorities.
Jenkins said that if he was prohibited from communicating with ICE and honoring a detainer from the agency, the alleged hitmen could have been released on a bond—with no one knowing their cartel connections.
The sheriff serves in one of three Maryland counties—along with Anne Arundel and Harford—that currently cooperates with ICE through its 287(g) program. The program allows for ICE to be alerted when an illegal alien is booked into a county correctional facility.
“The only inquiries that we make are once an individual is arrested and taken to our booking center at the jail. Everybody is asked two questions: ‘Where were you born?’ and, ‘What country are you a citizen of?’”
If the detainee answers anything other than “the United States,” an immigration status check is conducted using the federal database.
Deputies never ask for an individual’s immigration status while responding to an incident, during a traffic stop, or while conducting an investigation, Jenkins said.
The bill that Jenkins is most concerned about is House Bill 913 (HB 913), which would essentially sever communication between local or state law enforcement and ICE.
“They’ve got these laws written so tightly, you couldn’t even pick up the telephone and make a call to ICE,” Jenkins said.
HB 913 would also prohibit cooperation with an ICE detainer, which is a request by the immigration agency to hold an illegal alien until an agent can pick him or her up. Detainers also ask a local or state jail to alert ICE when an illegal alien is to be released from custody. Under HB 913, ICE would have to instead produce a federal judicial warrant. Both require probable cause, but a judicial warrant requires a judge to sign off.
The bill would also prevent correctional officers from supplying ICE the address of a person released from jail and their time of release, said Maryland House Delegate David Moon, a Democrat and HB 913 sponsor.
“However, they would not restrict ICE from accessing this information,” Moon said.
Fifty-six Democrats co-sponsored the bill.
“I do not consider this as a sanctuary bill,” Moon said.
Jenkins disagrees. He said ICE doesn’t have any information on illegal aliens who have never been apprehended before, and HB 913 would prevent immigration authorities from knowing about those aliens.
“There is no way for ICE to really know, unless they cooperate with local law enforcement,” he said. “ICE doesn’t necessarily know if an arrestee is an illegal alien. If he’s never been encountered by law enforcement—either in the interior or on the border—there’s no way to know because there’s no record of them.”
Jenkins said the safest way is the current method, in which most of the cooperation and transfer of custody takes place through the corrections system.
He said he doesn’t view ICE detainers any differently than those issued from agencies such as the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“We will detain someone for any other federal agency. So why not ICE?” he said.
Jenkins testified against the bill on March 5 on behalf of all 24 elected sheriffs in Maryland.
Gary McElhaney, assistant secretary with Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the implications of the sanctuary bills are particularly pertinent for Department of Corrections (DOC) inmates.
“Twenty-five percent of the undocumented immigrants in the DOC system are there for murder; 30 percent for sex crimes. So over half our undocumented population in the DOC is in for serious crimes. And we do alert the Department of Homeland Security when those folks are to be released,” he said.
Under the new bill, that alert would be forbidden. And the bill goes even further, to prohibit detainers and warrants from other states being honored.
“The state would be obligated to release a detainee or an inmate who does not have a federal judicial warrant—which excludes detainees and inmates who have outstanding state warrants,” McElhaney said during a bill hearing on March 5 in Annapolis.
“This would result in an inordinate amount of erroneous releases and would severely jeopardize public safety.”
However, he said, the inmate wouldn’t be released if they are a U.S. citizen. If an inmate is a U.S. citizen, and was about to be released after serving a murder sentence, for example, but another state had issued a detainer or warrant for that inmate, the inmate would be turned over to that state.
Another way the bill would shield illegal immigrants from ICE is for charges that don’t require fingerprinting.
“For DUI arrests or other arrests related to traffic or other infractions, there are no fingerprints taken, and therefore, ICE would not automatically be notified,” said Tom Williams, legislative liaison for the Maryland State Police, at the bill hearing.
California, which enforced statewide sanctuary policies at the beginning of 2018, has come under fire for several high-profile cases, in which illegal aliens were released instead of being turned over to ICE and then went on to commit serious crimes.
For instance, police officer Ronil Singh was killed while conducting a traffic stop early on Dec. 26, 2018, in Newman, California. Gustavo Perez Arriaga, the illegal alien who has been charged with Singh’s murder, had twice been arrested on drunk-driving charges, but not turned over to ICE.
While law enforcement officers testified vehemently against the bills, advocacy groups argued that they are essential.
Aside from HB 913, two other bills have been introduced to the House of Delegates. One, HB 1165, says that unless it’s required by law, no government agent can inquire about an individual’s immigration status. The other, HB 1273, requires hospitals and schools to develop policies restricting ICE from operating on their premises, in conjunction with the state’s attorney general, Brian Frosh.
Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, sponsor of HB 1273, said the bill would provide illegal immigrants enforcement-free zones.
“Our hospitals and our schools really should be safe places that are protected. And it’s critical for the health and educational outcomes of our residents that everyone is welcome and safe,” Wilkins said on March 5.
She accused ICE of not fully enforcing its 2011 policy of avoiding enforcement operations in sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals, and churches. Nora Eidelman, deputy director of Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County, said she wants the scope of the bill expanded to include courthouses.
Several illegal immigrants testified, saying they are scared they will be asked about their immigration status.
“I’m scared to go around and go about my business with the fear of being labeled as illegal,” one woman said through a translator.
Vicky Cutroneo, who spoke on behalf of the Board of Education for Howard County, said her board adopted a set of policies in 2017 that rejected immigration enforcement on school property.
“Even after we made that resolution, families really are afraid to come to meetings, to advocate. I know that when we give away laptops, they’re afraid to come and get the laptop,” Cutroneo said.
But Jenkins said HB 1273 is totally unnecessary.
“Boards of Education, higher learning institutions, and hospitals don’t participate in immigration enforcement whatsoever; at all,” he said. “And that’s certainly by their own policy, we all understand that. There is no enforcement in those locations. Those locations are not targeted by ICE.”
Nicholas Katz, a lawyer for advocacy group Casa de Maryland, said he estimates around 1 million foreign-born immigrants live in Maryland. However, he didn’t clarify whether he lumped legal and illegal immigrants together in that number. Casa de Maryland receives about 40 percent of its funding from Maryland state and local governments, according to a report by Jim Simpson.
“Every year, CASA helps thousands of Maryland residents apply for benefits and access services,” Katz said.
A 2017 report published by the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates illegal aliens and their children residing in Maryland cost taxpayers $2.3 billion per year, when including medical, education, justice system, and welfare costs.
“If those individuals fear that their interactions with government agents are going to lead to a pipeline to deportation, or that they or a family member will be asked about their immigration or citizenship status, they’re going to choose to not to access those benefits—which they desperately need,” Katz said. “This bill strengthens public safety, because it ensures people feel safe accessing law enforcement, reporting crimes, and victims aren’t afraid to report what’s happened to them because they think they’ll be questioned about their immigration status.”
Jenkins argued that politicians and activists deliberately mislead the public about the so-called “chilling effect” in immigrant communities where law enforcement cooperates with ICE.
Law enforcement officers don’t ask the immigration status of witnesses and victims of crimes, unless they themselves have been arrested for a crime, he said. And protections such as the U-visa already exist for illegal aliens who are victims or witnesses of crime.
“That’s why I don’t buy this argument [of] the ‘chilling effect,’” Jenkins said in a previous interview. “The local immigrant communities want to make them safer. They don’t want to be victims in their own communities. And we find that, by and large, the immigrant community cooperates with us because they know those protections are there.”
Safer With ICE
Jenkins goes one step further and says his county is safer specifically because he cooperates with ICE in the 287(g) program.
“I truly think there’s a direct correlation. We have one of the lowest crime rates in the region. And we don’t have the magnitude of gang crime. MS-13 gang crime is up [almost] 70 percent in Montgomery County,” he said.
Montgomery County, which introduced sanctuary policies in 2014, is a hotbed for MS-13. Many MS-13 gang members have entered the country by crossing the southwest border illegally and being granted unaccompanied minor protections. Gang members also target other unaccompanied minors for recruitment, often in local schools.
In the past five full fiscal years, almost 260,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended by Border Patrol at the southwest border and more than 182,000 have been released to sponsors around the country. Maryland has absorbed more than 14,000 unaccompanied minors over the past five fiscal years.
“We probably run into more transnational gang members, especially over the last two to three years, after the surge of undocumented children from the border into our county,” Jenkins said. “So we’ve seen an increase in MS-13 coming through our system. They came here, say at 14, 15 years old; it’s four or five years later, they’re adults committing serious crimes.”
But, he said Frederick County has had five consecutive years of double-digit decreases in its serious crime rate, including homicides, rapes, robberies, and sexual assault.
In the past 11 years of working with ICE in the 287(g) program, Frederick County has placed 1,496 criminal aliens into removal proceedings, including more than 106 criminal gang members, Jenkins said.
“There’s no one who would argue and say that’s not beneficial to public safety in Frederick County,” he said.
Frank Madrigal, who is the Baltimore deputy field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, says cooperation and information sharing among law enforcement agencies is critical to public safety.
“The notion that local officers might be legally barred from such cooperation with a federal law enforcement agency could put the public they are both sworn to serve and protect at greater risk,” Madrigal said. “Sanctuary policies like those proposed in Maryland could permit dangerous criminal aliens, with no lawful basis to remain in this country, to be released and to potentially re-victimize the communities to which they are returning.”
ICE spokesperson Justine Whelan said having to produce federal judicial warrants in place of the current immigration detainers to gain custody of an illegal alien is difficult for ICE.
Officers often need to conduct an in-person interview with a suspected illegal alien in order to establish probable cause for an immigration detainer, she said. These interviews are routinely conducted in correctional facilities, which many sanctuary jurisdictions bar ICE from entering.
“The Fourth Amendment has long permitted civil immigration arrests and detention, regardless of the fact that the probable-cause determination for such violations are made by executive branch officials rather than a magistrate,” Whelan said. “There is no known mechanism for a federal judge or magistrate to issue an arrest warrant in civil and administrative matters.”
Maryland would join California as a sanctuary state if the bills pass—which seems likely, considering the spread of 99 Democrats and 42 Republicans in the House. The same result is likely in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
If signed by the governor, the bills will go into effect on Oct. 1.