Sanctuary city no more?

Although Takoma Park’s sanctuary law is not changing, it may no longer be as effective at keeping immigrants safe from deportation next year when Montgomery County starts operating under a new federal program.

The sanctuary law, passed in 1985, forbids Takoma Park police officers from checking a person’s immigration status.  Even if officers inadvertently learn of a deportation order they are not allowed to notify the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Anyone arrested in Takoma Park is turned over to County authorities for detention in Rockville, but a prisoner’s immigration status is still usually protected.  When the County receives prisoners from Takoma Park, they are checked against the standard FBI database, which does not include ICE warrants or immigration status.

At some point next year, however, Montgomery County is expected to start enforcing an ICE program called Secure Communities, which requires that a prisoner’s fingerprints be sent to ICE as part of the booking process.  If it is determined that the individual is either in the country illegally or has committed a crime that is grounds for deportation, ICE will take custody and arrange deportation.

According to Takoma Park Police Chief Ronald Ricucci, “We won’t be doing anything differently, but once we turn suspects into the jail system it is out of our hands. It won’t change what we do down here, because we still won’t act on warrants. It will affect the Montgomery County jail system more than anything.”

One concern is that this change may undermine the trust that the sanctuary law has built up between local police and immigrants.  Takoma Park’s immigrant population is 28.6 percent of city residents compared to an average of 9.8 percent across the state of Maryland.

Takoma Park City Council member Terry Seamens said it was a shame that the federal government is imposing laws on local governments.

“If federal laws are being forced on us from the federal government, we wind up with a less safe community,” said Seamens. “We will have to see if there is a way to better maximize public safety within the framework of this new law.”

The Prince George’s County police department has operated under Secure Communities for three years, resulting in the deportation of more than 200 immigrants.  More than half had no criminal record and had been detained for minor violations that would not otherwise have led to deportation.