ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland county is ending its contract with the federal government to screen detainees for immigration status, county officials announced Thursday.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat, campaigned against the program, which went into effect last December under Pittman’s Republican predecessor. Pittman, who was joined at a news conference by county police Chief Timothy Altomare and Terry Kokolis, the superintendent of the county’s detention facilities, said public safety officials determined the program doesn’t have a meaningful effect on keeping people safe.
They also found upon review that it does not help in identifying and arresting violent criminals.
“Our county detention staff should be focusing on local law enforcement responsibilities rather than furthering controversial federal immigration policy,” Pittman said.
Under the 287(g) program, county detention staff screen people taken into custody for allegedly committing crimes to determine their immigration status.
“I’ve spoken to them already. we’ll sign a letter that we will send to them today and they will get tomorrow ending the program,” Pittman said Thursday.
Pittman noted the expense of county employees doing work that Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees used to do. He said the county paid 12 employees while they received training for a month.
“We’re not becoming a sanctuary county,” Pittman said at a news conference about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the nation’s capital. “We are simply going back to the way we did things before; 287(g) was a voluntary program. We found that it cost us. We were having to pay our people to do the work of ICE, and now ICE will do that work.”
Only two other Maryland counties, Frederick and Harford, have similar contracts with ICE. With a population of about 573,000, Anne Arundel was the largest Maryland county with such a contract.
Since the program began in the county in December 2017, 193 foreign-born people have been interviewed, Pittman said. Of them, 69 were determined to have either overstayed their visas or entered the country without authorization, he said. Those 69 came from 47 countries, and 37 were arrested for committing violent offenses and unlikely to be released to ICE anytime soon.
Altomare underscored the importance of trust between police and the immigrant community. He said police have had to work for years to build that trust, particularly in the Hispanic community.
“We need communities to trust the police to help us solve crimes — not fear us because they are worried their friends or family may be detained or deported,” Altomare said.
Separately, Pittman also announced that the county will continue an agreement with ICE to hold up to 130 male detainees who are 18 or older in a medium-to low-security detention center in Glen Burnie. Pittman said local pastors and immigration attorneys told him the facility is more humane than alternatives.
Pittman said the county receives $118 a day per detainee, adding up to about $4 million last year. He said the money will be used for public safety, with a portion of it used for legal representation for detainees.
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