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Opinion In Maryland, we’re defending the humanity of immigrants

Assistant Warden Major Mike Cronise stands in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility at the Frederick County Detention Center on June 28 in Frederick. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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Nick Taichi Steiner is a staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland.

If President Biden wants to follow through with his campaign promises and be a president who supports the immigrant community, he needs to end the 287(g) program.

Recently, the national ACLU issued a report, “A License to Abuse: How ICE’s 287(g) Program Empowers Racist Sheriffs,” on the draconian immigration enforcement program called 287(g). The program delegates federal immigration enforcement authority to local and state law enforcement agencies. It expanded five fold under the Trump administration. In Maryland, the county sheriffs in Frederick, Harford and Cecil counties have the program.

Make no mistake: The program is a racist, anti-immigrant effort by the sheriffs to remove immigrants, particularly immigrants who are Black and/or originally from Central America, from their communities. We have heard time and again that this federally sanctioned local immigration enforcement scheme creates fear among the immigrant community, encourages racial profiling by local police and creates a xenophobic policing system in which non-U. S. citizens are treated as second class.

In one such 287(g) county, the ACLU of Maryland represented a Frederick County resident, Sara Medrano, and the Resources for Immigrant Support and Empowerment ("RISE”) Coalition for a violation of Medrano’s constitutional Fourth Amendment rights for being racially profiled as Latina.

In July 2018, Medrano was followed by a Frederick County deputy until she was pulled over for what the deputy claimed was a broken taillight, but her taillight was working just fine. The pretextual stop was really about attempting to have her deported for her suspected immigration status.

Racist, unconstitutional behavior is disturbingly commonplace — though unacceptable. Members of the RISE Coalition have repeatedly recounted stories of their own racial profiling experiences with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

As the National ACLU report describes, the type of law enforcement agencies that participate in the 287(g) program are ones that are already predisposed to racially profile immigrants who are Black and/or from Central America. Frederick County Sheriff Charles “Chuck” Jenkins has made countless racist comments about people seeking refuge in this country, including about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients. Such openly anti-immigrant and xenophobic law enforcement officials have no business engaging in local immigration enforcement to further their own bigotry.

Across the state, Maryland is making moves to protect the rights and defend the humanity of immigrants in our communities, and it is time to end the 287(g) program. Last legislative session, the Dignity Not Detention Act passed, requiring all existing immigration detention contracts to cease, which ends any local or state contracts to detain immigrants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At the same time, local pro-immigrant bills are passing all over the state to protect the rights of immigrants in their communities. Howard County protects the privacy of immigrants and prevents immigration status related discrimination. The Frederick County Council created an Immigrant Affairs Commission that facilitates civic engagement among immigrants. The Prince George’s County Council passed a bill that prohibits enforcing ICE detainers in actions that do not involve criminal charges. In Montgomery County, a similar action was taken through executive order.

Communities clearly want to protect immigrants and their privacy, yet the 287(g) program — and the related fear and violation of immigrants’ constitutional rights — persists. Ending immigration detention and enacting protective policies and legislation are most effective if other pipelines to deportation are stopped.

That is why we are calling on Biden to end the 287(g) program and uphold the humanity of the immigrant community.