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Del. Szeliga: Public safety should not be politicized [Commentary]

Del. Kathy Szeliga, House of Delegates minority whip, discusses several proposed crime bills during a news conference in Annapolis on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020.
Del. Kathy Szeliga, House of Delegates minority whip, discusses several proposed crime bills during a news conference in Annapolis on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun)

This week, activists came to Annapolis demanding that Maryland become a sanctuary state. Their proposals would also shut down the programs our local sheriffs have with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler and his successful 287(g) Program.

Crime continues to be the number one issue people across our state are concerned about. In 2018, USAToday named Baltimore the most dangerous city in America. Last year became the fifth year in a row that Baltimore reported more than 300 homicides.

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Making Maryland a sanctuary state will make our state more dangerous and put violent criminals on the streets. Shielding criminal illegal immigrants from law enforcement harms innocent people.

Take the case of 14-year-old Ariana Funes-Diaz in Prince George’s County less than one year ago. She witnessed an assault and stepped in to stop it. When those involved worried she could tell the police, she was brutally murdered; forced to strip, beaten with a baseball bat, slashed with a machete, her dead body left in a tunnel. Two of her three killers were jailed a year prior on a robbery case and instead of cooperating with the ICE detainer, corrections officials released them back into the community. They are MS-13 gang members, had previously committed crimes elsewhere in the USA and had been deported.

Montgomery County has also refused to cooperate with ICE. In November, 48-year-old Luis Hernandez-Morales was arrested for molesting his 11-year-old granddaughter on numerous occasions. Morales was also a youth pastor at his church. Despite an ICE detainer, Montgomery County released him when someone paid his $2,000 bail. Imagine the courage it took for this 11-year-old girl to tell the truth about this molestation only to have her abuser released with a slap on the wrist.

These are only a few horrific stories about Marylanders killed or sexually assaulted by people who should be in ICE custody. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have seen an increase in MS-13 gang activities.

Repeat violent offenders, regardless of their immigration status, should be in prison, not released back into our communities. If repeat criminals are illegally in this country, they must be deported after they serve their sentence – every time! The crimes committed by illegal immigrants are often times not isolated incidents. A July 2018 Government Accountability Office report noted that the 197,000 criminal illegal immigrants incarcerated in federal prisons during fiscal year 2011 through 2016 had been arrested about 1.4 million times and accused of approximately 2 million offenses, about 10 crimes each.

Harford County continues to be a very safe place to live, work and raise a family. Sheriff Gahler has a common sense approach to fighting crime. Under his leadership, crime in Harford County has gone down 31% over the last five years, with violent crime down 41%. The number of people incarcerated in the Harford County Detention Center remains steady, indicating that law enforcement is not unnecessarily locking people up.

He and his agency, as well as the sheriffs from Frederick County, Wicomico County and Cecil County cooperate fully with ICE. All of those counties continue to see reductions in crime and their communities continue to be safer. All these sheriffs came to Annapolis to oppose this measure that would destroy their relationship with federal law enforcement.

I have introduced legislation every year for the last three years to require all Maryland local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with ICE. If an illegal immigrant has been arrested for a crime, local law enforcement should cooperate with ICE. ICE does not issue detainers on those here illegally who have committed no other crime aside from being here without papers. ICE focuses on those who have committed horrendous crimes and should be deported.

Public safety should not be politicized. Maryland should not be a sanctuary state. Lawmakers must work to keep our communities safe.

Kathy Szeliga is a Republican member of the Maryland House of Delegates, representing District 7, and is the House’s Minority Whip.

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