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ACLU files lawsuit seeking details of Harford County sheriff's immigration enforcement program

ACLU files lawsuit seeking details of Harford County sheriff's immigration enforcement program
Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler's office is a participant in a program that drafts local law enforcement agencies to review the immigration status of people when they’re booked into jail and flag people for federal immigration agents. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The ACLU of Maryland has filed a lawsuit seeking the release of records and policies detailing the Harford County sheriff's involvement in a federal immigration enforcement program.

The sheriff’s office is a participant in a program that drafts local law enforcement agencies to review the immigration status of people when they’re booked into jail and flag people for federal immigration agents.

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Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said in November, the anniversary of his office joining the program, that 105 people had been subjected to additional screening and 44 were identified as priority candidates for deportation. Those results, Gahler said at the time, justified joining the program.

But the ACLU is seeking more information about the people who were screened and how they were selected for additional scrutiny. On Wednesday, the civil liberties group filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in federal court in Baltimore seeking to force federal officials to release the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Gahler and other supporters of the program, known as 287(g) for the law that authorizes it, helps keep citizens safe by subjecting dangerous immigrants to more careful scrutiny. But opponents warn that it can encourage racial profiling and disproportionately severe treatment of people arrested for minor offenses.

Nick Steiner, an ACLU fellow, said the data the group is requesting would shed more light on the program and filed the information request because, “I wanted the fuller picture from them.”

Cristie Kahler, a spokeswoman for Gahler, said the sheriff’s office didn’t know about the contents of the lawsuit but planned to continue the immigration screening program which she called “an important part of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office’s efforts to make our communities safer.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment.

Harford County is one of three jurisdictions in Maryland involved in the immigration enforcement effort. Frederick County has long participated and Anne Arundel County recently joined. Steiner said he is not currently seeking information from either of them.

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