State ACLU Is Probing Anti-Immigrant Policies

By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 2008

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has launched a review of local efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants, saying a patchwork of increasingly harsh policies might be violating some residents' rights.

In announcing the project, the group singled out two moves it is questioning: an initiative by Frederick County officials to use local police to identify and help deport illegal immigrants and an Anne Arundel County effort to crack down on county contractors that employ illegal immigrants.

The civil rights group has set up an office to review the laws and to challenge those it thinks have gone too far.

"We need to get a sense of how these laws are being enforced and then see how they're impacting the immigrant community," said Ajmel Quereshi, the ACLU attorney who will head the effort, called the Immigrants Rights Project. "If the laws are hurting those communities, then we will review the constitutionality and see if there are" grounds to challenge, he said.

ACLU chapters and immigrant rights groups in other states have begun similar efforts, although many are not as organized as that in Maryland. Nationwide, the ACLU says about 1,500 anti-immigrant ordinances were introduced by local lawmakers last year, touching on topics including education, employment, housing and voting.

Quereshi said that Maryland has avoided some of the more sweeping laws approved in other states and that he hopes forcing discussion on such proposals before they become law will cause legislators to think twice before supporting them.

"Maryland is not as grave as other states," he said, "but if we can spearhead an effort to address these laws, it could provide a model for others in the mid-Atlantic region."

Frederick Sheriff Chuck Jenkins was the first law enforcement official in Maryland to sign a 287(g), an agreement local jurisdictions can make with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that provides training for police and correctional officers to enforce immigration laws. ICE agents also are placed in local detention centers to question and process detained immigrants for deportation.

In the first six months of the agreement, about 9 percent of those arrested and taken to Frederick detention centers were determined to be illegal immigrants, Jenkins has said. More than 180 had been put on track for deportation, he said in October. He added that the effort was helping to identify gang members and people with criminal histories.

"I believe 90 percent of the people in this county support this," he said.

Anne Arundel police cooperation with ICE aided in a raid on a local painting company to search for illegal immigrants. County officials have said the collaboration between local law enforcement and federal authorities is a valuable tool for enforcing immigration law.

Quereshi has begun the review by filing public records requests with all 23 Maryland counties and Baltimore City, seeking not only specifics on all immigrant-related laws but also policies on how immigrants are treated in police custody and documents that might show attempts by local lawmakers to target immigrants. Among the information sought:

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