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Local police should stay out of immigration enforcement

Emanuel, 14, and his sister Aidha, 20, describe what it has been like without having their mother around since her arrest in January when her car broke down and an MDTA police officer called ICE. (Thalia Juarez | Baltimore Sun)

Once again, local police are sticking their noses in immigration matters.

This time Maryland Transportation Police called federal authorities on a woman in distress after having just watched her car catch on fire.

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The women, who is only being identified as Nora for her protection, now sits in a Worcester County Detention Center, deportation to El Salvador in her future.

We have hit a bad spot in this country when a woman with no criminal history, who wasn’t doing anything wrong, and also by the way was awaiting an asylum hearing, can’t call the police when she is in need of help. The women’s family told reporter Thalia Juarez she was in constant fear something like this could happen and had begged a tow truck driver that day not to call local authorities. It is too bad her fears turned out to be prophetic.

Unfortunately, cases of unfair immigrant arrests are becoming all the more common in Maryland, violating people’s constitutional rights and wasting police resources that could be going toward more pressing matters. Since when did it become acceptable for police to randomly question — and profile — people simply because they think they might not have authorization to be in the country? And without an arrest warrant or official partnership with ICE. Perhaps it is all this talk about border walls and “thug” immigrants being normalized by the president?

Whatever the case, the state needs to establish better protections for immigrants. They are entitled to fair treatment and due process even if they are undocumented. They too deserve a functional relationship with police. When immigrants look at the police as the enemy, they won’t turn to law enforcement and crimes will go unreported and unsolved.

For starters, lawmakers need to pass legislation pending in the General Assembly that would prohibit state and local police from arresting people on civil warrants issued by ICE, or asking about immigration status. A state law would make sure immigrants in every corner of the state are being treated fairly and eliminate some of the variance of enforcement we now see. Because as we know, some counties are more open to immigrants than others.

Anne Arundel County is leading by example. In December newly elected executive Steuart Pittman terminated a federal contract with ICE to screen people in county’s jails for immigration status. In turn, ICE cancelled a lucrative contract with the county to house immigration detainees, but that is a trade off the county should be willing to make.

Even those with intentions of being fair have regulations that aren’t always clear or followed. Local police departments also need to do a better job training their officers to prevent overzealous arresting.

In Baltimore, Mayor Catherine Pugh, like her predecessor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has promoted an environment that embraces immigrants, who both women said contribute to the economy and create a culturally diverse city. But Baltimore’s police department has no policy on working with ICE. A spokesman said one could be in the works. We will be watching closely to see if that happens. We also welcome an executive order that Mayor Catherine Pugh is expected to issue in coming weeks prohibiting discrimination based on immigration status.

It turns out state transportation police, per their own policy, shouldn’t have arrested Nora in the first place because she was not subject to a criminal warrant. An administrative warrant did exist from when Nora missed a court date. The officers never confirmed what kind of warrant Nora had.

That small mistake could be life changing for Nora, who could get sent back to a country that she found dangerous enough to flee. Her three children who remain at their home in Southwest Baltimore are left without their mother for the time being.

Let’s leave the immigrant enforcement to the feds and stop using local police to break up families.

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