Anne Arundel County could become the third Maryland jurisdiction to join with the federal government in enforcing immigration laws, as the Trump administration pushes a crackdown on people who are in the country illegally.
County Executive Steve Schuh has applied to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that trains local law enforcement officers in federal immigration law so they can help find and report undocumented immigrants.
Officers at the county's Ordnance Road Detention Center in Glen Burnie would be trained under the federal program, known as 287(g). The facility holds convicted criminals who have been sentenced to 18 months or less.
A spokesman for Schuh said joining the federal program would be part of Anne Arundel County's "moderate and measured approach" to immigration enforcement. County police would not be involved in the program, spokesman Owen McEvoy said.
Jurisdictions in Maryland are divided over helping the federal government enforce immigration law. Frederick and Harford counties already participate in the 287(g) program. Baltimore and Howard County have taken steps recently to reinforce their acceptance of people regardless of their immigration status.
The Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation that would prevent local jurisdictions from detaining people for immigration violations.
The Department of Homeland Security issued two memos this week giving federal agents more latitude to remove anyone in the country illegally who is suspected of committing a crime, even minor offenses. The Trump administration also plans to expand the deportations done without review by an immigration court.
Both actions represent a reversal from policies in place under Democratic President Barack Obama, who prioritized deporting immigrants who were violent criminals. About 11 million people are believed to be living in the country illegally.
The Homeland Security memos follow President Donald Trump's executive order to ban people seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The order, which sparked protests at airports and elsewhere, has been suspended by federal courts.
Under Schuh's proposal, some of Anne Arundel's detention officers would receive training from the federal government in immigration law, interviewing techniques and databases, McEvoy said. The detention officers would identify jail inmates who might be here illegally and start the immigration enforcement process with federal authorities.
McEvoy stressed that county police officers would not participate and no county tax dollars would be used.
"It's very limited to our detention facilities," McEvoy said.
Anne Arundel has tried for months to negotiate a deal to house some federal immigration detainees in unused space in the Ordnance Road Detention Center. The federal government would pay the county to house the detainees. But an agreement has not yet been struck.
Federal officials won't comment on pending applications to the 287(g) program, or say how many jurisdictions have applied to join the program. Thirty-seven cities and counties around the country participate.
Schuh sent a letter to Latino community leaders this month alluding to the county's planned participation in the program, but not mentioning it specifically.
He wrote that the jails are working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "to identify people who have committed serious crimes and who are in the country illegally."
"In connection with our work with ICE, we are planning to train several of our detention department personnel in the appropriate manner of interviewing individuals for the above purpose," Schuh wrote. "We have no plans to train other, community-based law enforcement professionals in enforcing immigration law."
Elizabeth Alex, Baltimore regional director of the immigrant advocacy group CASA, said there should be a public discussion before a county joins such a program.
Even if the program is limited to the jail, she said, it can still cause fear in immigrant communities.
County Councilman Chris Trumbauer, a Democrat who represents the Annapolis area, questioned whether the county should get involved in federal immigration enforcement.
"Our law enforcement agencies have a lot to deal with, and concentrating on federal immigration doesn't seem like the right focus now," he said. Trumbauer co-sponsored a council resolution last fall that objected to the county's involvement in immigration enforcement at the jail.
Elected officials in other Maryland jurisdictions have pushed to avoid enforcing federal immigration policy.
In Baltimore, where advocates recently marched to protest the deportation of two undocumented immigrants living in Highlandtown, officials say police will refrain from asking people they interact with about their immigration status. Mayor Catherine Pugh has said Baltimore is a "welcoming" city.
And the Howard County Council passed a bill that emphasized the county should not question residents about their immigration status. The council stripped the resolution of language declaring that Howard is a "sanctuary county," but it was still vetoed by County Executive Allan Kittleman.
State lawmakers are considering legislation that would bar local jurisdictions from participating in programs such as 287(g).
The bill would prohibit governments in Maryland from performing the functions of an immigration officer, including detaining people suspected of immigration violations or holding undocumented immigrants in jail beyond when they would otherwise be released.
The bill, called the Maryland Trust Act, has the backing of the legislature's Latino, Black and Asian-Pacific Islander caucuses, and from lawmakers from immigrant-rich Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Baltimore Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.