Trump administration says Maryland counties releasing undocumented immigrants

Federal report: Three undocumented immigrants released from local Md. jails.

Three Maryland counties released undocumented immigrants last month despite requests from federal authorities to keep them in jail, according to a report Monday that is a result of one of President Donald Trump's first executive orders.

One of the Maryland jurisdictions cited in the report — Montgomery County — swiftly disputed the report's findings.

The Department of Homeland Security report, which found that 206 requests to hold immigrants in the country illegally were declined nationwide, is among the first steps the Trump administration is taking to crack down on so-called "sanctuary cities." The report is part of an effort to pressure local officials into changing their policies.

At issue is how cities and counties handle inmates who are in the country illegally and when they are supposed to be released from jail. Hundreds of jurisdictions in Maryland and across the country have said they will not hold immigrants beyond their scheduled release if federal agents make that request — known as a detainer — unless it is accompanied by a warrant.

During a one-week period ending Feb. 3, the report found the Baltimore County Department of Corrections released an immigrant who had been charged with drug trafficking. The report said that Montgomery and Prince George's counties released immigrants that had been charged with assaults.

Neither the names of the immigrants, nor specifics about their alleged criminal activity, were released.

A spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, a Democrat, said the county searched its records for the date on which DHS said the hold request had been issued as well as the date they said an immigrant with a detainer had been released, and found no record of either occurrence.

"The report isn't accurate," said the spokesman, Patrick Lacefield.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to questions about the Montgomery County case.

A spokeswoman for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Prince George's County Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump and other Republicans have been particularly critical of the sanctuary policies following the 2015 death of Kathryn Steinle, who was shot to death on a San Francisco pier. The suspect, an undocumented immigrant, had been released from a local jail despite a request from federal immigration agents to hold him.

Montgomery and Prince George's counties, as well as the state-run jail in Baltimore City, have set limits on when they will honor hold requests.

Many jurisdictions in Maryland and elsewhere have not adopted sanctuary policies out of a sense of altruism, but rather because they are increasingly being advised to do so by legal experts. Maryland's Attorney General informally advised counties that holding an undocumented immigrant beyond his or her release date without probable cause of a crime is a constitutional violation. Several federal courts have agreed.

The federal detainer form notes, in its title, that the hold requests are "voluntary."

The 35-page report on Monday was murky on several other details. The report identified the "Baltimore County Detention Center" as being located in Baltimore City, rather than Towson. It was not clear whether DHS is referring to the Baltimore County facility, or the state-run jail in Baltimore.

Baltimore is widely considered a sanctuary city and, under a policy put in place by former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, it does not honor federal detainer requests unless they are accompanied by a warrant. Yet Baltimore was not included in a list of jurisdictions in the report that have "enacted policies that limit cooperation" with federal agents.

Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which have similar immigration detainer policies, were included on that list.

Trump said throughout the campaign he would crack down on sanctuary cities, a political term that has unclear legal meaning. The president signed an executive order on Jan. 25 that sought to pull federal funding from sanctuary communities. Legal experts have said that would be a difficult hurdle in a jurisdiction like Baltimore, which still cooperates with DHS on many fronts.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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