Federal immigration officials say 28 people were arrested in Maryland during a nationwide sweep that targeted immigration violations in "sanctuary" jurisdictions.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the four-day operation ended with 498 people taken into custody across the country.
The agency initially said all 28 Maryland arrests occurred in Baltimore, but that was not the case, Carissa Cutrell, an ICE spokeswoman, said Friday. Five were arrested in Baltimore, one was arrested in Baltimore County, 11 in Prince George’s County and 11 in Montgomery County, Cutrell said.
All 28 individuals were detained on civil immigration violations, not criminal charges, which precludes ICE from identifying them publicly, Cutrell said.
Elizabeth Alex, regional director for the immigrant advocacy organization CASA Maryland, criticized the sweep, calling ICE’s name for it — “Operation Safe City” — a “misnomer.”
“Baltimore knows that the way we keep our communities safe is by being a welcoming community to immigrants, and by encouraging our families to feel comfortable calling police,” Alex said. “Trying to uplift this narrative that immigrants are criminals is really counter to what we in Baltimore know, what we see every day in Baltimore — that immigrants are our neighbors, our children and the parents at our schools.”
The arrests included 15 individuals who do not have legal status in the U.S. or were violating the terms of their status, six individuals who were defying court orders to leave the country; and seven individuals who had previously been removed from the country and subsequently re-entered, ICE confirmed Friday.
One woman detained is a citizen of El Salvador who entered the U.S. on a fraudulent passport, ICE said in a news release. The statement says the woman was previously convicted on charges of first-degree assault and was released from detention in Maryland before ICE made the arrest.
Two men from El Salvador were also among those detained, Cutrell said. Both had re-entered the country after having been previously removed, she said. One has pending criminal charges for driving while intoxicated and assault, but Cutrell said she could not say in what jurisdiction.
Cutrell said others among the 28 arrested in Maryland had pending criminal charges as well, but she could not say how many. Eleven of the 28 have past criminal convictions, she said. Nationwide, ICE said 317 of those arrested had criminal convictions.
None of the Maryland arrests occurred at jails, Cutrell said. All were in the community.
ICE says the operation focused on cities and regions that limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials conducting investigations.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration,” ICE Acting Director Tom Homan said in a statement. “As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”
Baltimore officials have resisted the “sanctuary” label, noting that the policies implied by that term are set by the state of Maryland. The Trump administration, which has made cracking down on illegal immigration a priority, has sent mixed messages on whether it considers Baltimore a sanctuary city.
Maryland declines to hold immigrants in jail beyond their scheduled release. But the state does alert ICE about certain immigrants before it sets them free, allowing federal agents to pick them up outside the jail. Not all jurisdictions do that, and the Justice Department has until now been more focused on those that don’t.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has issued an opinion that honoring ICE requests to hold individuals suspected of immigration violations for up to 48 hours after they’re scheduled to be released could violate those individuals’ constitutional rights.
Mayor Catherine Pugh, who has continued other immigration policies set by her predecessor, has called Baltimore a “welcoming” city for immigrants. Under an executive order by then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2012, city police do not ask people they interact with about their immigration status. However, Pugh’s administration has said that Baltimore is not a “sanctuary city” and cannot be one because the state, not the city, controls the jail.
The jail is run by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has said the state complies with federal immigration requests but the corrections department has offered a more nuanced explanation of its policy.
Still, the Trump administration has previously criticized the approach to enforcement taking place in Baltimore, specifically citing the state’s jail policies. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, meanwhile, has instructed local prosecutors to think twice before charging illegal immigrants with minor, nonviolent crimes given the Trump administration’s stepped-up enforcement efforts.
The differences came to a head last month when Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called “perplexing” a U.S. Department of Justice suggestion to the city that federal crime-fighting assistance for a new program called the National Public Safety Partnership was contingent on local policies for immigrant detainees.
In an Aug. 2 letter to Davis, Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson had posed three questions about city statutes and whether they provide U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials with access to and information on immigrant detainees in Baltimore. Davis noted that the jail is controlled by the state, and said linking crime assistance for Baltimore to immigration policies was “concerning” and “sends the wrong message” to immigrant communities.
“Public safety depends on all communities, regardless of immigration status, having trust in law enforcement,” Davis wrote at the time. “Without this trust, immigrants may be less likely to communicate with the police, report crimes, or seek assistance upon becoming a victim.”
Baltimore police said Friday morning that they are not privy to ICE investigations unless asked to assist, and were not involved in the recent sweep.
Pugh on Friday released a statement saying that she could not comment on the individual arrests, but that her administration “maintains its commitment to educating immigrant communities about their rights,” and believes people “with legitimate claims to remain in the United States should not be denied access to due process because of misinformation or because they cannot afford proper representation.”
Claudia Cubas, senior program director for the detained adult program at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, said her organization was scrambling Friday — along with other organizations like CASA Maryland and the ACLU of Maryland — to locate the arrestees at local jails with ICE contracts, so that they can visit with the immigrants and arrange pro bono attorneys for them.
Cubas said her group is “saddened and distressed” by the targeting of immigrants in cities that have expressed support for immigrants, but also focused on the “cornerstone of our services, which is to identify folks, to determine what their claims for relief are, and to get them representation.”
Aside from the arrests in Baltimore, ICE said it made arrests in Philadelphia (107), Los Angeles (101), Denver (63), Massachusetts (50), New York (45), Portland, Ore. (33), Cook County, Illinois (30), Santa Clara County, Calif (27); and Washington, D.C. (14).
Baltimore Sun reporter John Fritze and the Associated Press contributed to this article.