BEL AIR, Md. - Just the idea of inviting federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE agents into a detention center to screen inmates for their legal status can have a chilling effect on those who fear it could lead to racial profiling.
"We saw that in Harford County earlier this year where an Asian-American woman who happened to be a U.S. citizen was pulled over by the sheriff's department," said CASA Regional Director Elizabeth Alex at a rally in Towson earlier this year.
But in its first year at the Harford County Detention Center, the controversial 287(g) program has turned up more than a hundred illegal immigrants, and among them, nearly four dozen violent offenders whose final days spent in this country will be the time they serve behind bars.
"Four of those 44, which is 10 percent of that number, have shown themselves as MS-13 members,” said Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, “So they're not the only four in the county. We realize that, but these are four who hopefully we're not going to open the door and say, 'Welcome back to Harford County when you've finished your sentence for what you were arrested for."
The program's heralded success comes in stark contrast to Baltimore County where County Executive Kevin Kamenetz pledged to veto a similar measure earlier this year.
"Now, the Republican members of our county council want to bring this unconstitutional brand of Trumpism here to Baltimore County," said Kamenetz at the time.
It is an argument tied to the ongoing debate over immigration in this country, but Gahler claims the program isn't about politics.
"They'll fight about anything in DC, but breaking the law is breaking the law,” said Gahler, “and we're not after people who are simply in the country illegally trying to make a better life for themselves."
While most of the focus has been on illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, other violent offenders identified in Harford County's jail came here from Cuba, Vietnam, Jamaica, Kenya and even Italy.