The three Republicans on the Baltimore County Council want to require the county to participate in a federal program that deputizes local jail employees to act as de facto immigration agents. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who has promised to veto the legislation if it ever reaches his desk, opposes it on the grounds that it will drive a wedge between the county government and immigrants (documented or not) and diminish public safety by making them reluctant to report crimes or cooperate with police. Nationally and in other Maryland counties, jurisdictions that have participated in what's known as the 287(g) program have seen cases of blatant racial profiling.
We agree with all those objections and have expounded on them at length before. But we would add the most Baltimore County of all reasons to oppose the legislation: It would cost taxpayers money.
You might assume that if a local government volunteers to help the feds perform a task that is clearly their job, like immigration enforcement, that the government in Washington would pick up the tab. You would be wrong.
The 287(g) agreements between the federal and local governments come in two basic types. In a broad version that President Donald Trump is reviving, local police are allowed to enforce immigration law in the community. In the narrower iteration the Baltimore County Republicans are proposing, jail officials seek to determine the immigration status of people detained on suspicion of another crime through interviews, federal database checks or other means, and then hold undocumented immigrants for federal officials to pick up.
In either scenario, the local officers involved must undergo training in federal immigration law. Since 2008, trainees have been sent for a four-week course at a special facility in Charleston, S.C. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement picks up the cost of the training course itself but not the travel and lodging expenses for the officers, nor does it cover the costs of their salaries while they're being trained, or the costs the local government incurs in covering for them while they're away.
The bigger price tag, though, comes when the program is actually up and running. It's not just a matter of tallying the costs of the time detention center employees spend researching immigration status rather than doing their actual jobs, though that can be significant. Other jurisdictions that have participated in 287(g) have seen spikes in overtime costs associated with covering their ordinary workload. Ancillary costs add up, too, ranging from foster care for the immigrants' children (who are often U.S. citizens) to expenses associated with litigation related to the program, which is common.
The biggest expense, though, comes from detaining immigrants in jails longer than they would otherwise be held. A University of North Carolina study found that Mecklenberg County, N.C., which has a population slightly larger than Baltimore County's, spent $5.3 million on its 287(g) program in 2009, $4.8 million of which represented the cost of detention. Alamance County, N.C., which is about a fifth of Baltimore County's size, spent $4.8 million in its first year of 287(g) participation, $4.2 million of it for detention costs. Prince William County, Va., raised its property tax by 5 percent to cover the costs of starting its 287(g) program.
Since the 1990s, the federal government has operated the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program to help reimburse local jurisdictions for part of the cost of detaining undocumented immigrants. The key word there is "part." Not all jurisdictions get funds, and those that do were reimbursed for only a fraction of what they submitted.
And that may be a moot point, anyway; SCAAP is, bizarrely enough, one of the several dozen agencies and programs President Trump's budget would eliminate.
Baltimore County's policies for dealing with illegal immigrants were recently formalized in an executive order by Mr. Kamenetz. It prohibits county employees from discriminating against people based on their known or suspected immigration status or denying them services unless providing them would violate state or federal law. Police are not allowed to inquire about a person's immigration status in order to enforce civil immigration law, nor can police or corrections officials hold an individual beyond his or her ordinary release unless under the terms of a proper warrant or judicial detainer. Police can still cooperate with federal authorities on law enforcement activities, including those that target illegal immigrants suspected of violating criminal law.
That's eminently sensible. We urge the County Council to let it stand rather than entangle the police and corrections department in a program that would be costly in terms of community relations, public safety and civil rights — not to mention the bottom line.