The Harford County Sheriff's Office will partner with the federal government on immigration enforcement with the signing Wednesday of an agreement with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that covers screening for undocumented aliens at the county detention center, who are suspected of crimes threatening public safety.
"What we're going to is, screen every single individual that comes into the detention center, after our deputies are trained, and identify those who are here illegally and further victimizing the community," Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said.
Gahler, a Republican whose 2014 campaign platform included immigration enforcement, said he "could not be more pleased to be here today signing this agreement."
He said the Sheriff's Office applied to ICE, which is part of the federal Department of Homeland Security, in June of 2015 to be part of the Delegation of Immigrant Authority, or 287(g), partnership.
Representatives of ICE, including Tom Homan, executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations for the agency, were on hand for the signing ceremony at the Sheriff's Office headquarters in downtown Bel Air.
"Immigration is a very emotional, controversial subject right now, we all know that – it's probably the biggest issue facing this country right now," Homan said.
The Harford Sheriff's Office joins the Frederick County Sheriff's Office as the second Maryland agency to take part in the 287(g) program.
The 287(g) program does not mean undocumented aliens will be jailed in Harford while awaiting deportation, only that detention center will be trained to screen for illegals wanted in connection with serious crimes among people who are arrested in the county.
Homan noted that "something that isn't controversial is protecting public safety."
Under the partnership, corrections officers will people who have been arrested when they first come into the local jail.
Anyone who is in the U.S. illegally and has committed a crime that threatens public safety, national security or border security would then be turned over to federal immigration authorities.
"We are looking for the worst offenders who are here victimizing our citizens here in Harford County," Gahler said.
Homan stressed that the 287(g) program is not about targeting all undocumented immigrants, only those who have committed crimes that fall under the priorities of public safety and national security.
"If they don't fall within our priorities as a public safety threat, it's somebody we're not interested in through this program," Homan said.
About 10 Harford County corrections deputies will be the initial group to go through ICE training. The federal government covers the cost of training and equipment, Homan said.
He said Harford deputies will work under the supervision of sworn ICE officers. The program will be monitored "on a constant basis" through the ICE field office in Baltimore.
"This is about partnership," said Homan, who noted he has 6,000 officers to handle an estimated 20 million illegal aliens. "This is about having additional manpower to help us do our job."
He said the program has been "very successful" around the country in protecting public safety, as well as protecting the safety of officers who do not have to search for and confront illegals, which he called "dangerous business."
"For every alien that is captured due to this program, it's one less alien that is going to commit a crime in this community," Homan said.
Local agencies that apply for the 287(g) program must go through an extensive vetting process, according to Sarah Rodriguez, an ICE spokesperson.
Rodriguez said the agency wants to expand the program to "law enforcement agencies that are exemplary."
"They have an excellent reputation for responsible law enforcement, and their interest in this program shows they are committed to keeping their residents safe," she said of the Harford County Sheriff's Office.
Frederick County's 287(g) program was implemented in 2008. Federal immigration officials have issued 1,409 detainers, or requests to detain a person, on people arrested by municipal, county and state law enforcement in Frederick County between April 11, 2008 and May 31, 2016, according to data provided by ICE.
The data indicates 176 detainers were filed for people who have been charged with a felony, and 95 detainers have been issued for people who were validated or suspected gang members, or they had military or fighting training.
An ICE program manager is on duty in Frederick County each day to supervise, and the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility does routine inspections, according to ICE.
Different from the 287(g) program, Anne Arundel County officials are weighing a request from the federal government to use a medium-security jail in Glen Burnie to detain illegal immigrants, The Baltimore Sun reported earlier this month.