- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2013

The pace at which illegal immigrants are deported from the District under a federal initiative is far lower than in surrounding jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland, even though illegal immigrants make up similar proportions of their populations.

D.C. officials went to great lengths to limit the effect of Secure Communities, a program to deport those in the country illegally who have committed crimes. They said they have been successful in quelling fears within the immigrant community since the program took effect last summer.

“We obviously took a position that said we are not going to become instruments of enforcement on immigration issues, but I’ve had no blowback at all,” D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said.

Thirty illegal immigrants were deported from the District since the start of the program in June through March 31. After submitting 17,972 fingerprint records from the D.C. Jail to federal immigration officials, only one person per every 599 submissions is being deported — giving the District the ninth-lowest rate compared with states.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 25,000 D.C. residents — or 4.5 percent of the population — are illegal immigrants. Though illegal immigrants are estimated to make up a smaller percentage of the population in Virginia, at 2.7 percent, the state’s deportation rate was far above those in the District and in Maryland, with one deportation per every 143 submissions. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data show a total of 5,646 deportations from Virginia under the program, which began in early 2009 but was implemented unevenly across the country. Virginia ranked 13th in the nation in deportation rates.

In Maryland, where the illegal immigrant population is thought to comprise about 4.6 percent of the total population, the state has deported 1,384 illegal immigrants since Secure Communities began, for a rate of one deportation per every 300 submissions. Maryland had the 28th highest rate among the states and the District.

A law that the District adopted last year prevents the city’s Department of Corrections from holding inmates on “detainer” notices for ICE. Some analysts say that law is a key factor in the contrasting deportation rates.

“The District has the strictest and most obstructive policy on detainers,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors a crackdown on immigrants. “Maryland is very lukewarm on honoring detainers, whereas Virginia has more history of cooperation in detainers.”

The differences are even more pronounced at the local level, where jurisdictions can adopt laws to help or hinder the program.

“That tells me that the impact of these local polices really affects ICE’s ability to do their job and could well have a negative impact on public safety if a large number of those criminals go on to reoffend,” Ms. Vaughan said.

Prince George’s County, which was the first county in Maryland to opt into the program in 2009, accounted for nearly half of Maryland’s deportations and has a rate of one per every 121 submissions.

Montgomery County, which like the District resisted implementation, has deported 92 people since implementing the program in February 2012 and has a deportation rate of one per 184 submissions. County Council members tried to limit the scope of the program, initially floating the idea that police would share information with federal agencies only about individuals charged with violent crimes but eventually settling for a resolution outlining objections to the law.

Fairfax County had the highest local deportation rate, with one per every 43 fingerprint submissions. It was followed by Prince William County, with a deportation rate of one per every 47 submissions. Lawmakers there have authorized local police to inquire about the immigration status of those they stop.

“That does enhance the information that is available to the courts and the magistrate when the person is brought into the jail,” said Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. “It doesn’t necessarily affect the rate, but it does the number of people identified.”

Despite the county’s high deportation rate, Mr. Stewart called Secure Communities a “weak program” because it identifies only those whose fingerprints match data already in the system. He hailed the federal 287(g) program, which deputizes local police to work as immigration officers, as being far more effective.

ICE data show that 956 people have been deported through Secure Communities, while Mr. Stewart said more than 6,000 people have been handed over to ICE for deportation through 287(g). The 287(g) program has come under far more scrutiny than Secure Communities for the potential for racial profiling, however, and its fate in the county is uncertain.

“If they ended 287(g), only a fraction of those are going to be in the Secure Communities database,” Mr. Stewart said.

Alongside local laws, perceptions of immigrant communities by law enforcement and training on how to interact with them also could contribute to the differences in deportation rates, said Sapna Pandya, executive director of Many Languages, One Voice, a D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy group for those who do not speak English as their primary language.

At a news conference last year, Mr. Gray and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier — flanked by leaders of the city’s Hispanic community — reiterated the city’s commitment to working with immigrant communities.

Worried that compliance with Secure Communities would dissuade illegal immigrants from reporting crimes or serving as witnesses out of fear of deportation, Mr. Gray signed an executive order prohibiting officers from asking about immigration status. Police promised to redouble efforts to build and maintain relationships with immigrant communities.

“We recognized the potential impact of this mandatory federal program on our relationship with the community; therefore, we have conducted outreach to the communities we serve in order to provide them with vital information and help allay concerns,” police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said.

While the District went out of its way to assuage fears, other jurisdictions are trained to target immigrant communities, Ms. Pandya said.

“I think overall local law enforcement is a bit more, how should I say this, they don’t harass immigrant communities as much as Virginia and Maryland — Virginia definitely,” Ms. Pandya said. “In D.C., I think we do have a better relationship with local law enforcement that helps as well.”

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