By andrew Damstedt
WASHINGTON – Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins Wednesday joined other law enforcement officials on Capitol Hill to laud a strict immigration enforcement program that some groups have criticized as ineffective.
“This is about the rule of law,” Jenkins said. “This is about saving America. This is about public safety and national security.”
In 2008, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office became authorized to act as field agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the 287(g) program. Since then, 965 individuals have been detained in Frederick County with 940 of those transferred to federal officials, according to Jenkins.
Wednesday’s meeting was sponsored by the Center for Immigration Studies and House Immigration Reform Caucus to highlight issues law enforcement officials face with illegal immigration, including drug-running, gangs and homicides.
The sheriffs all said securing the border must become a top national priority.
The others attending the program were: Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa; North Carolina county sheriffs Alan Jones, Graham Atkinson, Sam Page, Rick Oliver, Tracy Carter and Terry Johnson; Sioux County, Iowa, Sheriff Dan Altena; Chief Deputy Steve Henry of Pinal County, Ariz., and Jessica Vaughn with the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit immigration research group.
Frederick County is the only Maryland jurisdiction to participate in the program in which local law enforcement agencies partner with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to act as field agents.
The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office has 10 law enforcement deputies and 16 correctional officers trained in the program.
Frederick County Sheriff’s records show most of the illegal immigrants detained there come from Latin America, with the highest number coming from Mexico, totaling 244.
Frederick County doesn’t have the border problems some counties are facing, such as Mexican drug cartels, however, drug smuggling is an increasing problem for law enforcement agencies across the nation.
Arizona’s Henry, whose county is 70 miles north of Mexico, called the Mexican drug cartel “terrorists,” and said not enough was being done to fight that war.
“We have terrorists in our backyard that operate with impunity each and every day to the demise of Americans,” Henry said. “We go to Libya, we go to Afghanistan, we go to Pakistan, for lack of a better word, we punish the terrorist organizations because we are at war with terrorism, … well it’s in our backyard and we are doing nothing about it.”
Jenkins said there isn’t the political will in Maryland to get more jurisdictions into the program.
Casa de Maryland’s Political Director Kim Propeack told Capital News Service that’s for the best — that sending “dozens of deputies” off to immigration training is a waste of resources.
Casa de Maryland has sued the Frederick County Sheriff’s office for racial profiling on behalf of Roxana Orellana Santos, who was stopped while eating her lunch on a park bench, Propeack said. A native of El Salvador, Orellana Santos’ deportation order was stayed this month for a year, in part because she is the sole plaintiff of a federal lawsuit.
“We have a broken immigration system, not just in Frederick County,” Propeack said. “Most parties have decided to deal with that by ensuring in local communities that residents are safe. To the extent that local police are perceived as immigration agents that undermines the goal.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Jenkins said immigration enforcement programs are only used after a person has been arrested. In Frederick County, of those detained, 733 were arrested for misdemeanor offenses and 75 were arrested for felonies, including attempted second-degree murder, second-degree rape, theft and participating in a criminal gang.
Jessica Vaughn, Center for Immigration Studies policy director, said there has been no evidence that immigrants commit more or less crime than the American population, but she said there are public safety issues with illegal immigration.
“Illegal immigration is a form of organized crime,” Vaughn said. “It’s not a random thing that just happens. It’s controlled by organized groups who control crossing, transport and access to employment in many cases. It’s become a very violent business.”