- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Montgomery County announced a strategy Tuesday to strengthen its efforts with federal immigration authorities.

County Executive Isiah Leggett, a Democrat, told the police chief the county will now require officers to give U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement the names of every person arrested for violent crimes and for illegally carrying or transporting handguns.

The decision by the county - considered among the region’s most liberal and welcoming to immigrants - comes after a 7.7 percent increase in serious crime last year in the county, some of which police said occurred in neighborhoods where immigrants were perpetrators and victims.

The new policy stops short of illegal-immigration efforts in nearby counties, where officers have been deputized to act as federal immigration agents, but it still raises concern among immigrant advocates.

“Though this might not necessarily be a, quote, ‘agreement,’ it is cooperation with a federal agency,” said Elena Lacayo, of the National Council of La Raza, in the District. “The consequences are still that immigration enforcement does happen at a local level.”

Under the policy - which should take effect in the coming weeks - county police will notify ICE of anyone arrested for specific violent and handgun offenses. County officials expect ICE to receive an average of three names a day.

Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said ICE will then determine what to do. He also said county officers will continue with the policy of not asking about people’s immigration status.

Chief Manger had originally proposed to Mr. Leggett that police be allowed to check the immigration status of people arrested for a weapons offense or violent crime, such as murder or kidnapping. Mr. Leggett’s responded by memo Tuesday to the recommendation.

Right now, county jail officials each week fax to ICE a list of foreign-born inmates, and officers check if people they stop or detain have outstanding warrants. If there is an immigration violation, it’s reported to ICE.

Officials said the new policy is another collaboration with ICE that will provide a stronger system of checks and balances to keep violent offenders behind bars.

“It does not get our police engaged in doing the sort of federal immigration work,” that some think results in “having people who are racially profiled,” Mr. Leggett said. The county has an estimated 279,000 foreign-born residents.

Immigrant advocates also said the policy could put people who haven’t been convicted of a local offense in deportation proceedings, ultimately separating families.

The policy is not as strict as others adopted in the region. In Maryland’s Frederick County and Virginia’s Prince William and Loudoun counties, law enforcement authorities are trained by ICE to enforce federal immigration law.

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