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End law enforcement cooperation with ICE | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Jews against ICE, along with various community groups, protest and block the entrance of the Howard County Detention Center last summer.
Baltimore Jews against ICE, along with various community groups, protest and block the entrance of the Howard County Detention Center last summer. (Xavier Plater/Baltimore Sun)

It is well documented that Maryland police agencies that work hand in hand with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, continue to racially profile black and Latinx immigrants.

I know about several interactions clearly based on nothing besides the color of someone’s skin or his or her appearance that wind up with officers turning our community members over to ICE.

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Families too often suffer in silence, many of them not knowing where to turn when they are in danger because they fear that local police officers could be working with ICE.

It is time to finally curb collaboration between local police agencies and ICE and pass the Trust Act this legislative session. The purpose of this legislation is to stop police and jails from working for federal immigration enforcement, so that they can focus on their real job: keeping local communities safe and maintaining public trust.

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Right now, Frederick, Harford and Cecil Counties have agreements with ICE where their sheriff’s offices have committed a portion of their staff and resources not to maintaining safe communities, but to supporting federal immigration schemes under an administration that has made it clear their goal is not to promote public safety, but to sow fear and scapegoat immigrants. Meanwhile, in Howard County, a supposed bastion of diversity, there is an Intergovernmental Service Agreement with ICE that allows the county to profit from detaining immigrants who live in Maryland and other states by offering the Jessup Correctional Institutional’s cells for ICE enforcement.

The need for the Trust Act is dire. We have many documented accounts of racial profiling and of Maryland families being needlessly ripped apart thanks to ICE’s coordination with local law enforcement.

Take Jorge Benitez-Perez’s story, which should have just ended with a speeding ticket in Hyattsville. Instead, the police stopped Mr. Perez’s mother and soon after called ICE. “I was betrayed by my police officers because their job is to protect our community. It’s not to do the job of a federal agency," Mr. Perez said. "That’s not what they get paid for.”

Local police are encouraged by ICE to stop people who look like immigrants in order to ask for their immigration status. Maria Rivas’ brothers were stopped by police while driving to work and were detained at Howard County Detention Center, even though she insists they “didn’t commit any traffic violation." Police turned them over to ICE. “When we see a police car, we should feel like they are doing their job, to protect us, not making us fearful of them," Ms. Rivas said. “I feel that just because we have a certain profile, we are going to be stopped and detained,” Ms. Rivas said.

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There is good reason to fear being detained because of one’s race. Immigrants in the U.S. come from all over the world, but the detention of immigrants does not reflect that diversity. Immigrants from Latin America are detained the most, followed by immigrants from majority black countries. Even worse, 98% of those deported were from Latin and African countries in both 2012 and 2013. These explicit deviations from local law enforcement only undermine effective community policing.

For example, when a police officer walks over to you after your tire has exploded, you might expect them to help. But when Eddy Monterroso was stranded on the side of the road on highway 32 in Columbia, an officer took one look at him and asked for his papers. “Police are supposed to be looking for criminals. But I’m not a criminal. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. My tire just blew out,” Mr. Monterroso said. He said he now lives with fear. “I can’t call the police because the first thing they are going to do is ask me for my information.”

The Trust Act would stop police from asking for someone’s immigration status, transferring persons to ICE without a judicial warrant, detaining people for the sole purpose of immigration enforcement and using local law enforcement resources for immigration enforcement. Once we untangle our police forces and correctional resources from ICE, our immigrant community members will be more likely to call the police when they need help.

“We are going to keep on seeing unfair and sometimes illegal detentions so that’s why we need the Trust Act," Ms. Rivas said. "It will be beautiful for all of us to have that security. That this is my home, and nobody is going to stop me just because my skin color is different.”

It’s time to pass the Maryland Trust Act because our families and broader community need us to. Let’s show that Maryland is compassionate and truly values effective public safety for all Marylanders.

Sergio España (españa@aclu-md.org) is director of engagement and mobilization of ACLU of Maryland, Baltimore.

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