Montgomery County Council members on Tuesday introduced a resolution opposing a federal program that flags arrested illegal immigrants for deportation.
The county, one of two Maryland jurisdictions along with the city of Baltimore that has yet to participate in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Secure Communities program, currently gives immigration authorities the names of foreign nationals arrested and all people arrested for violent crimes, officials said.
Council member Nancy Navarro, the sponsor of the resolution, asked why the county needs to comply with the federal program, which will require the county to share with ICE the fingerprints of every person arrested.
“We have addressed policies to deal with violent crime,” said Ms. Navarro, a Democrat. “The way the [Secure Communities] program has been implemented has been ambiguous.”
Under the program, all people arrested have their fingerprints scanned at local jails. Those scans are shared with the FBI and ICE. Anyone found to be in the country illegally is turned over to ICE officials for deportation proceedings.
Ms. Navarro said the federal program will undermine community confidence in county public safety agencies.
The resolution points out that the county’s foreign-born population has nearly doubled since 1990, to 279,000, and accounts for 30 percent of the county’s population and more than 40 percent of all immigrants in Maryland.
It “encourages” police to continue the current policy of only sharing information on “individuals who have been charged with a violent crime, rather than all individuals who have been arrested for any offense, which could include traffic and other offenses.”
Ms. Navarro cited reports that the majority of people deported through ICE have no prior criminal record or are low-level offenders.
In neighboring Prince George’s County, which was the first Maryland jurisdiction to announce voluntary participation in the program, ICE data shows that 244 people were deported from December 2009 through March 2011, including 157 people with no prior criminal record.
ICE plans to operate Secure Communities nationwide by 2013 with no opt-out provision for local jurisdictions, ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein said.
“A jurisdiction can opt not to receive the results of the immigration query. However, a jurisdiction cannot prevent ICE from receiving that information from our federal partners,” Mr. Feinstein said in an email response to questions.
While the program reportedly is scheduled to start in Montgomery County in September, Mr. Feinstein declined to comment on whether a start date will be imposed.
When the time comes, the county will be required to participate, said Patrick Lacefield, spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, a Democrat.
Whether the federal program is active or not, Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks said county police will continue to “deliver quality service” to residents.
Ms. Navarro said she hopes federal lawmakers will take note of the council’s opposition to the program and weigh in on whether there is a way the county can continue to operate its own policies without implementing the federal program.
According to the council’s agenda, the resolution is next scheduled to be considered May 3.