In first year of ICE program, Sheriff's Office identifies 44 detainees it says are illegal immigrants

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office reports it has identified an average of about one illegal immigrant a week among those arrested during the first year of a program to screen the immigration status of those detained on criminal charges.

Thirteen months after the Harford County Sheriff’s Office began checking the immigration status of the people taken into custody, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler issued a press release Monday saying that implementing the program was “the right choice.”

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, Section 287(g) one of ICE's top partnership initiatives according to that agency’s website, allows a state or local law enforcement entity to enter into a partnership with ICE, under a joint Memorandum of Agreement in order to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions.

In June 2015, Gahler sent a request to the director of ICE to initiate the Harford County Sheriff's Office's participation in the the 287(g) program. He said at the time that participation in the federal program "will benefit the citizens of Harford County and should be considered a priority."

The local law enforcement officers receive training and function under the supervision of ICE officers. The Harford County Sheriff’s Office signed a MOA Oct. 26, 2016, thus formalizing the relationship between the two agencies and setting guidelines for the implementation of the program at the Harford County Detention Center.

Previous screening systems in Harford relied on "self-reporting" of those arrested, who are asked their place of birth and/or country of origin, the Sheriff’s Office said when requesting participation. The federal screening system is far more comprehensive.

Since the program’s inception at the Harford County Detention Center, the Sheriff’s Office reported, 105 individuals arrested on state charges were identified as those who should be further screened. Of those 105 individuals, 44 were identified as being in the U.S. illegally and priority candidates for federal deportation procedures. Those 44 were from countries that included El Salvador, Italy, Mexico, Kenya, Cuba, Vietnam and Jamaica, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“The stats speak for themselves,” Gahler said in the news release. “The decision for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office to take part in the 287(g) program was the right choice. Without question, adding this tool to our crime-fighting tool belt helps protect Harford County residents. The ability to detain violent criminals and keep them from re-victimizing the citizens of Harford County is paramount. Without this program, violent criminals, including four members of a violent gang, could still be free and in our community.”

Additionally, it is important to note, the Sheriff’s Office said, that those identified for action by ICE were arrested and charged by local law enforcement for various crimes such as having a handgun on their person, identity theft/fraud, drug possession, second-degree assault, armed robbery and second-degree murder. Of the 44 suspects, five were determined to be gang members, four of them members of the MS-13 violent street gang.

The program has proven to be successful “by giving the staff at the Harford County Detention Center the authority to strengthen public safety and enhance the safety and security of communities while ensuring consistency in immigration enforcement by prioritizing the arrest and detention of criminal aliens arrested locally for criminal violations,” the Sheriff’s Office said in the news release.

In Harford County, each person arrested and processed in the detention center undergoes a preliminary screening by trained correctional deputies to determine if he or she qualifies for ICE’s civil immigration enforcement priorities and processing for removal.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office is the third of three agencies in Maryland to participate in the 287(g) program. Anne Arundel and Frederick counties also entered into a partnership with ICE on the 287(g) program in June and August, 2016, respectively.

Following the launch of the 287(g) program at the Harford County Detention Center, nine correctional deputies underwent training to become certified Designated Immigration Officers and are working under the purview of ICE’s 287(g) program manager. One additional deputy is scheduled to undergo training in January 2018.

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