The Politics of Fear, Part 2: Anne Arundel County

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Protest against separation of families have taken place nationally. In June, County Executive Steve Schuh finalized plans to deputize county officers to act as immigration agents. He did so at the objection of the County Council and many citizen groups. Photo: Joe Brusky, Creative Commons
Protest against separation of families have taken place nationally. In June, County Executive Steve Schuh finalized plans to deputize county officers to act as immigration agents. He did so at the objection of the County Council and many citizen groups. Photo: Joe Brusky, Creative Commons

A previous Arundel Patriot article, The Politics of Fear, Part One: The National Level, described how the Trump administration uses scare tactics to facilitate mass deportation. They emphasize a supposed threat to public safety posed by violent “criminal aliens,” while enabling the deportation of all undocumented immigrants. The administration ignores research demonstrating that immigrants, including the undocumented, are less likely to commit crimes than are native-born Americans. It also focuses on the threat to public safety posed by sanctuary policies said to violate federal law. In fact, sanctuary policies are entirely consistent with federal law and contribute to public safety by fostering trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities. The current article describes how Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign is playing out in Anne Arundel County.

President Trump’s xenophobic policies have resonated in our county in a number of ways. Early this year, in response to his manufactured climate of fear, the Annapolis City Council passed an ordinance entitled Nondiscrimination of Foreign-born Residents, which offered protection to undocumented immigrants while avoiding the “sanctuary” label. At the same time, the legislation enables police to prioritize serious crime. It does not protect illegal immigrants for whom a federal warrant has been issued, based on a judge’s ruling that there is probable cause for arrest.

There was a comparable initiative at the state level. Democrats in the House of Delegates introduced the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act in early January. The House passed an amended version of the bill and sent it to the Senate. Broadly speaking, Senate Bill 835, known as the “Trust Act” would have forbidden local jurisdictions from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), except in cases where a judicial warrant, lawful subpoena, or request for information about specific person’s criminal record or immigration status had been issued.  For example, it would forbid law enforcement officials from “perform[ing] the functions of an immigration officer,” or honoring a federal request to detain incarcerated undocumented immigrants beyond their scheduled release date. The Senate bill also made clear that none of its provisions could contravene federal immigration law. By requiring a federal warrant for local cooperation, it would have enabled police to continue focusing on real criminals, rather than wasting valuable resources in actions against the broader undocumented population.

Immediate opposition to the Trust Act stressed the frightful consequences that would follow if it were enacted. For example, Delegate Herb McMillan (R-Annapolis) said that it “makes Maryland a criminal sanctuary state for convicted felon illegal immigrants.” Governor Hogan vowed to veto the House bill, saying, “The Maryland House of Delegates… passed an outrageously irresponsible bill that will make Maryland a sanctuary state and endanger our citizens.” Later, in a fundraising letter, he accused Democrats of “trying to make our state a safe haven for criminals here illegally.”

Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, Republican, District 30A, Anne Arundel County
Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, Republican, District 30A, Anne Arundel County

The Peroutka Resolution

The Anne Arundel County Council also got into the act. Council member Michael Peroutka (R-District 5) proposed a resolution urging state legislators to vote the Trust Act down.  Peroutka is on record as wanting to “expel all illegal aliens” and even to place a moratorium on legal immigration. His membership in the racist and xenophobic League of the South – until a month before his 2014 election – has been well documented in the Arundel Patriot.

Michael Peroutka addressing the League of the South.

Like the Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, the Peroutka resolution begins with threat, citing “human trafficking, violent crimes, and other negative effects of illegal immigration,” before urging members of the General Assembly to oppose the act. The County Council passed the resolution 4-3 along party lines.

Rockville Rape Allegations

Further adding to the alarm, shortly before the Trust Act went to the Senate, the Rockville high school rape case broke into the news. Two undocumented immigrant students from Guatemala and El Salvador were accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in a high school bathroom.  Since Montgomery County offers protections to undocumented immigrants, opponents of sanctuary pounced. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Trust Act would put “the State of Maryland at more risk for violence and crime,” and Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that case was an example of the bad consequences emanating from sanctuary policies. Anti-sanctuary protests were held at several locations in the county.

Group called “Help Save Maryland” protests in front of the Carver Educational Services Center in Montgomery County.

The school was subjected to hate calls threatening bomb attacks and shootings, and it had to increase security. Governor Hogan weighed in on Facebook: “I am outraged by the brutal and violent rape of a 14-year-old girl in a Rockville public school… The State of Maryland is calling on Montgomery County to immediately and fully cooperate with all federal authorities during the investigation of this heinous crime.” Maryland State Sen. Michael Hough (R) said the Trust Act “turns Maryland into a sanctuary state for illegal aliens who have committed crimes.” Democratic Senate President Mike Miller, who had previously considered the bill reasonable, later said that Maryland’s becoming a sanctuary state was “not going to happen.” “Our churches are not sanctuaries, our colleges are not sanctuaries, our cities are not sanctuaries,” “The bill as it passed the House is not going to pass the Senate.” The Baltimore Sun, commenting on remarks such as these, observed that “the crime now seems to be bringing out the worst kind of demagoguery from public officials who should know better.”

Gov. Larry Hogan who has made many anti-immigrant statements.  Photo: Joe Andrucyk

In the face Republican attacks and wavering support from some Democrats, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee issued an unfavorable report on the Trust Act, and the bill was withdrawn as the Maryland General Assembly’s 90-day legislative session came to an end. A few days later, the State’s Attorney dropped the charges after “painstaking investigation” showed that the girl was an active and willing participant in the sexual encounter. Predictably, the right-wing blogosphere charged that the prosecutor’s decision was political.

The 287 (g) Program

The Trust Act would have forbidden Anne Arundel County from participating in a Department of Homeland Security program known as 287(g), as proposed by County Executive Steve Schuh. With the Trust Act out of the way, the path was clear for Schuh to proceed. The program is named after a provision in a 1996 federal immigration law that enables local jurisdictions – through an Intergovernmental Service Agreement with DHS – to identify and hold undocumented immigrants for deportation by ICE. One model involves local police collecting and reporting immigration information on undocumented immigrants with whom they have legal encounters in the course of their police work.  Another model is limited to correctional facilities. It involves the training and cooperation of correctional personnel in collecting and reporting immigration information on inmates, along with release dates. This enables ICE to take custody of a prisoner at the end of an inmate’s incarceration. By participating in 287 (g), Anne Arundel County would have the distinction of joining the 41 local jurisdictions currently participating in the program, out of about 3100 counties and almost 20,000 municipal governments in the U.S.

Schuh’s 287 (g) proposal concerned the second model. Designated correctional personnel at the county’s Ordinance Road facility would be trained by DHS to identify and report undocumented immigrants in the inmate population, and then would proceed to do so. In a separate agreement, Schuh proposed to make space at the Ordinance Road facility available to DHS to house undocumented immigrants awaiting adjudication and possible deportation. The agreement would make 40 beds available at $118 per inmate per day. As the Patriot reported on June 22, Schuh’s 287 (g) proposal was approved by DHS, and designated Anne Arundel correctional officials are scheduled to receive training in South Carolina soon.

To what extent will this 287 (g) agreement make Anne Arundel County safer from violent crime? The answer depends in part on what kind of undocumented immigrants land in jail.  Are they mostly violent felons who would presumably present the greatest threat to the community upon release? Or are they guilty of – or charged with – lower-level and non-violent crimes, such drug possession, minor theft, bad check writing, and the like? If the latter, they might not present a serious threat to the community after completion of their sentences. Repeated requests to the Superintendent of Corrections, Terry Kokolis, for such information have gone unanswered, so it’s only possible to make an educated guess.  Ordinance Road is a medium security facility holding about 400 inmates for up to 18 months. It also includes inmates charged with offenses but not yet tried.

A 2002 national profile of jail inmates by the U.S Department of Justice — the most recent available — shows that about one-quarter were violent offenders, and one-quarter were convicted of each of three other types of offenses: property, drug, and public order. If these proportions were applied to undocumented immigrants in the Ordnance Road facility, about one-fourth would be violent, one-half, non-violent (property offenses and drugs); and one-fourth, “mixed,” depending on the nature of the disorderly conduct. For purposes of illustration, if there were 50 undocumented immigrants in Ordinance Road and the national proportions of offenses applied to them, 12 or 13 might be violent offenders and another four or five might be guilty of disorderly conduct involving some violence. In this hypothetical illustration, most of the undocumented immigrants netted by the 287 (g) screening would be non-violent, but a significant minority would be potentially violent, possibly representing a threat to the community upon release.  On the other hand, it is also possible that if Schuh’s 287 (g) proposal were withdrawn, the immigrant community’s trust in law enforcement would increase and violent crime would decrease.

Given the failure of the Trust Act and the implementation of the 287 (g) program, are undocumented immigrants in the broader community at greater risk of deportation now?  At a March 22 town hall at Annapolis High School, local law enforcement officials tried to calm fears in the immigrant community. Anne Arundel County’s police chief, Timothy Altomare, and Annapolis’s acting chief, Scott Baker, assured those in the audience that their departments would not be hunting down immigrants for deportation.  Doing so would break the trust the police were working hard to promote in the community, and they had neither the resources for, nor any interest in, identifying undocumented immigrants. In fact Altomare observed, as he had before, that his wife’s parents were undocumented immigrants from Central America.

Net Effects of the Politics of Fear

So how is the politics of fear playing out in Anne Arundel County?  The Peroutka resolution emanated from the same stew of xenophobia and resentment as did the Trump administration’s immigration policies, and it no doubt contributed to the demise of the Trust Act. The fear and hatred occasioned by the Rockville “rape” case certainly played a role. It is not clear how much fear of crossing the Trump administration affected the decision of Judicial Committee members to withdraw the Trust Act, but it may have been considerable.  The overall effect of the bill’s demise has been to leave undocumented immigrants in the county more exposed to future deportation than they would otherwise have been. Further, nothing in the act would have prevented local law enforcement officials from reporting serious offenders – the real threats to community safety – to immigration authorities.

Steve Schuh’s 287 (g) program will support the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant campaign by slightly increasing the number of deportees and providing housing for undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation procedures. Without more information from the county Department of Corrections, it is unclear how many serious offenders – the “criminals and rapists” that Trump has denounced – will be netted by the new screening procedures at the Ordinance facility, although the majority will probably be non-violent.

The Annapolis Non-discrimination Act and the assurances of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel police chiefs that they will not be pursuing undocumented immigrants who have committed no offense other than crossing the border illegally provide a measure of reassurance to the local immigrant community.  For the time being, it seems that undocumented immigrants in Anne Arundel County will be relatively safe from deportation, except for those who land in jail.  Of course, the situation could always change with changes of policy and/or personnel, so unease in immigrant communities and avoidance of authorities are likely to increase.

David Boesel is a long-time activist from Anne Arundel County.

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