WASHINGTON — Three Maryland counties are disputing a report from the Trump administration that identified them as failing to honor federal requests to hold immigrants in their custody — saying they have no record of the requests being made.
As part of an effort to apply pressure on "sanctuary" cities and counties, the Department of Homeland Security released a report last week identifying Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties as having defied federal requests to hold immigrants in jail so that federal immigration agents could pick them up.
But officials in all three counties told The Baltimore Sun they did not receive the requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement listed in the report. A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency stands by its report.
The three Maryland counties all have policies requiring ICE to obtain a warrant before they will hold an undocumented immigrant longer than a legal resident. The counties acknowledge that because they require warrants, in most cases they would not have held an immigrant without one.
They are disputing only that their policies led to the release of immigrants cited in the report.
The report, which covered a one-week period beginning Jan. 28, was required by an executive order President Donald Trump signed in his first days in office. It came as lawmakers in Washington and Annapolis are grappling with what to do with cities and counties that decline to hold immigrants beyond their scheduled release.
Trump officials are threatening to withhold billions from communities that decline to honor requests to hold immigrants in jail for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release, so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.
The report, released March 20, said immigration officials sent a request Oct. 4 to Baltimore County for a Mexican national who had been charged with drug trafficking. The request was denied, the report says.
Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County, said the Baltimore County Department of Corrections had no record of the request being issued on that date.
Like officials in Montgomery and Prince George's, she acknowledged a detainer may have been issued on some other day, but said county officials had no way of confirming that because federal officials are not releasing the names of the immigrants subject to the requests.
"We cannot identify any individual in Baltimore County Detention Center records that matches any of the information in the ICE report," Kobler said.
The examples cited by ICE are important because the justification for the requests is the notion that the immigrants in question are more likely to commit crimes. The rancor around sanctuary cities was amplified following the 2015 death of Kathryn Steinle, who was shot to death on a San Francisco pier. The suspect, an undocumented immigrant, had been released from a local jail despite a request from federal immigration agents to hold him.
Federal immigration officials use a document called a "detainer" to make their request. That is different than a warrant, which is signed by a judge and meets a higher legal standard. Maryland's Attorney General and a number of federal courts have warned that local jurisdictions may be violating the Constitution by holding people — including undocumented immigrants — for extended periods absent a warrant.
The report pointed to a detainer filed on Jan. 13, 2015 against a Salvadorean held in Prince George's County who had been charged with assault. Yolonda Smedley, a spokeswoman with the Prince George's Department of Corrections, said the department had no record of a detainer having been sent to the county on that day.
A spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, a Democrat, said the county searched its records for the date on which DHS said the hold request had been issued for a Salvadorean also charged with assault and similarly found no record of it.
"The report isn't accurate," said the spokesman, Patrick Lacefield.
A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Matthew Bourke, said he could not "speak for the record-keeping practices in the jurisdictions" but that "our records indicate that detainers were filed on the dates listed in the report."
The report, the first in a weekly series called for in Trump's executive order, was riddled with other inconsistencies. It described the Baltimore County jail as being located in Baltimore City, for instance.
As the immigration debate continues at the federal level, the Maryland General Assembly is weighing legislation to prohibit local jails from honoring detainer requests. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has vowed to veto that bill if it reaches his desk, even though his administration has as a similar policy for the state-run jail in Baltimore.
Communities may — and Baltimore does — alert ICE when an immigrant of interest is scheduled for release so that federal agents can pick that person up as they walk out of state custody. An earlier version of the state legislation would have prohibited that communication, but the new measure approved by the House no longer does.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions weighed in on the Maryland legislation this week, pleading with state officials to reject it and arguing it would put the state "at risk for violence and crime."