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Frederick's Uneasy Crackdown
"They keep saying this is about crime prevention, but we suspect it is really about ridding the community of undocumented immigrants," said Kerry O'Brien, a CASA lawyer. "If they are locking up people and separating families for driving without a license, what is the point of all this?"
Jenkins insisted that his officers stop cars only if they suspect that the driver has committed a crime, such as driving while intoxicated or speeding, and that if an immigrant shows valid identification, the person is given a ticket and let go. Otherwise, the person is arrested and checked for immigration status.
"We are not pulling people over because they look Latino," said the sheriff, a native of Frederick who has become a crusader against illegal immigration since he was elected in late 2006. "We need probable cause to make a traffic stop or an arrest, and we have gotten no complaints. If people are here legally, they have nothing to fear."
In the city of Frederick, the county seat, Police Chief Kim C. Dine has a different approach. Although most recent arrests of illegal immigrants have been carried out by his officers, Dine said it is crucial to build trust with the immigrant community as a way to combat crime. "When the pot is stirred, it can lead to animosity and hate," he said. "Over the long run, this can have a chilling effect on community relations with the government."
Dennis Rodriguez, 23, an illegal immigrant from Honduras, was arrested in Frederick three months ago. He said he had just started his car when he saw police lights flashing. An officer approached and said he had been stopped for not wearing a seat belt and not having his infant son in a car seat. Unable to produce a driver's license or ID, Rodriguez was handcuffed and taken away while his wife, a U.S. citizen, fumed in the passenger seat.
"I did not have any criminal record, but they took me prisoner," said Rodriguez, a construction worker who was in custody for about three months and then unexpectedly released on personal recognizance three weeks ago. He is now home, awaiting a court hearing. "I am free, but we still don't know if I will get deported and our family will be broken up," he said.
The aggressive effort to remove people like Rodriguez from Frederick has left the area's smaller established community of legal immigrants in an uncomfortable position. Although they sympathize with the newer, struggling Latinos in their midst, they also fear being unfairly cast in the same light.
Carlos Delgado, 36, a Salvadoran immigrant who co-owns a stylish restaurant in the city's historic district, said he was troubled both by the recent surge of impoverished, sometimes illegal immigrants and by the law enforcement program to pursue them.
"I have always believed that wherever you go, you need to learn the rules and culture and language," Delgado said. "Everyone deserves a second chance, but too many people want to do things the easy way, and some on the other side are going to extremes. The American dream is for everyone, but it comes with duties and responsibilities, too."