Guest commentary: To protect and serve, not to pester and harass
By Councilman George Leventhal
Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that the Maryland Trust Act, now pending in Annapolis, would make Maryland a sanctuary state. As the article points out, it would not.
Our county attorney has advised that Montgomery County is in full compliance with applicable federal immigration law. Specifically, the Trump administration has defined a “sanctuary” jurisdiction as one that “willfully refuses to comply with 8 U. S. C. 1373”. That provision of federal law says, “a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”
Montgomery County is not in violation of § 1373, nor would the Maryland Trust Act place Maryland in violation. The Maryland Trust Act would simply codify Montgomery County’s current practice.
When a person is processed after an arrest, their fingerprints are entered into a database which ICE and other law enforcement agencies can access. The county’s Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (DOCR) responds to ICE requests for inmate release dates, which is public information.
DOCR will hold an individual beyond the individual’s release date if DOCR has been served with a lawful arrest warrant for the individual, or a detainer served under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers, or if a DOCR officer with arrest powers has probable cause to conclude that the individual has committed a felony or has committed a misdemeanor in the presence of the officer (i.e., a lawful warrantless arrest). The county will not detain someone beyond their release date if ICE only sends a “civil detainer request” to hold an individual for up to an additional 48 hours.
The county does not honor such “requests” because the county is guided by both advice from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office and a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit that concludes that holding someone beyond their release date, without probable cause, would violate the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Those who claim we are a sanctuary jurisdiction appear to want us to go above and beyond our legal authority and question a person’s immigration status and then detain him or her if he or she does not have evidence of their legal documentation. When communities have attempted to adopt such practices, they have been struck down in the courts as a violation of individuals’ civil liberties and as racial profiling.
It simply is not the role of local government to enforce federal immigration law. Local government’s job is to protect and to serve people, not to pester and harass them.
George Leventhal, a Democrat, has served on the Montgomery County Council since 2002.