Immigration advocates in Maryland are criticizing a decision by Gov. Larry Hogan to notify federal immigration officials when an illegal immigrant targeted for deportation is released from the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center.
Advocates consider Hogan’s stance to be a departure from the policy of his predecessor, Democrat Martin O’Malley, who last year joined other elected officials in refusing requests from the Obama administration to coordinate with federal law enforcement whenever a detainee was being released.
Hogan’s decision, which was made with no fanfare shortly after he took office in January, is especially troubling, advocates say, because it is his first significant action regarding immigration policy.
CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group, has scheduled a protest in front of the governor’s mansion Thursday afternoon.
The issue of local governments cooperating with federal authorities in dealing with illegal immigrants has come to the forefront since the slaying last month of Kathryn Steinle, 31, in San Francisco. The suspect in that case, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, had been released from custody in April by San Francisco authorities despite a request from Homeland Security for the seven-time felon to be detained so that he could be deported back to Mexico.
During O’Malley’s eight years as governor, activists applauded his efforts to secure in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and allow them to obtain driver’s licenses, with some restrictions. They also were buoyed by his position on detainees.
Although Hogan did not campaign on any immigration-related issues, advocates have been watching the Republican governor carefully to see whether he would take a different approach.
“This really is the first ball out of the park,” said Kim Propeak, the director of CASA in Action, the political arm of the immigrant-advocacy organization. “And it doesn’t bode well. It is very, very worrying.”
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor is simply complying with a request made by the Obama administration — and has made no effort to reverse the driver’s license program or Maryland’s so-called “Dream Act,” the legislation that provides in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
“We are not making immigration an issue here,” Mayer said. “This is not an immigration issue. It’s a public safety issue.”
Around the time that Hogan took office, the Department of Homeland Security changed the type of cooperation it was seeking from local officials on detainees.
During O’Malley’s tenure, the agency’s Secure Communities program asked localities to hold inmates for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release from custody to allow U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to explore potential immigration violations and to take action if any were found.
The program was controversial. O’Malley directed the state-run Baltimore jail not to comply, joining several mayors in large cities across the country. More than 350 communities ended or scaled back their participation, citing legal and civil liberties concerns.
The administration did away with the Secure Communities program earlier this year, and said it would be replaced this summer by the Priority Enforcement Program.
That initiative asks local officials to notify their federal counterparts 48 hours before an immigrant who is being targeted for deportation is scheduled to be released so that agents can move to detain them. The agency says only immigrants who have been convicted of a serious crime, is involved in a gang or is considered a threat to national security would be targeted.
But pro-immigrant groups have blasted the new program, despite the changes, and officials in the city of Los Angeles have said their police department still will not cooperate.
Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said the state will adhere to the program and is notifying the federal government when an undocumented immigrant who fits the DHS criteria is close to being released.
“This will permit ICE to assume custody of the individual immediately upon release from a department facility,” he said.
The state will also voluntarily hold detainees for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release date if DHS can produce a detainer, backed up by a judicial warrant, establishing probable cause for a serious charge, Vernarelli said.
Sirine Shebaya, the attorney who directs the ACLU of Maryland’s immigrants’ rights advocacy, called the decision by Hogan “counter-productive,” arguing that it undermines public safety by further breaking down the trust between police and immigrant communities.