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About 9 percent of Frederick County arrests involve illegal immigrants, according to the sheriff’s office.

Since entering into an agreement with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in early 2008, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office has detained 1,250 illegal immigrants, 50 of whom have had connections to Mexican drug cartels and organized crime, Sheriff Jenkins said.

“The success of the program is not in the numbers; it’s who is actually getting arrested,” the sheriff said. “Do I want Mexican gang members on the streets of Frederick County? Hell no.”

He noted that the county recently deported to Colombia a convicted pedophile who was in the U.S. illegally.

“This program works, but there’s such a political fallout from using it, many county sheriffs won’t,” Sheriff Jenkins said.

He cited criticism from groups opposed to the federal mobilization of local law enforcement officers in immigration enforcement.

Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said such programs waste federal money and are discriminatory.

“The idea of deputizing local sheriffs as front-line immigration reformers is a catastrophic mistake,” said Chris Newman, the network’s general counsel. “It distracts attention, chills people from reporting crime, encourages racial profiling and leads to the unconstitutional arrest and detainment of illegal immigrants.”

Local law enforcers expressed frustration over the politicized nature of the immigration debate and said they are only trying to make their jurisdictions safer. Knowing who is in their jurisdictions illegally is a good start, they said.

Sheriff Page said that tracking expired visas, using biometrics at points of entry along the border, and further empowering ICE and local law enforcement would help tremendously. The House Judiciary Committee is considering such measures in immigration reform bills.

Mr. Fleming, who has been dealing with border issues for years, says more stringent measures are needed.

“There is a very, very big opposition to calling these organizations what they really are: narcoterrorists,” he said. “When you label them as a narcoterrorists, we can pursue and target them under the Patriot Act. This is one of the major things that we need to do because of the level of sophistication they have. We have a saying on the border: ‘If it gets by us today, it’s going to be your problem tomorrow.’”