Transparency Needed to Ensure Local Police are Accountable to the Communities They Serve
BALTIMORE, MD – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland today filed suit in federal court in Baltimore under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to ensure that local police departments that partner with ICE in anti-immigrant 287(g) agreements can be held accountable to the communities they serve. The lawsuit seeks full information about individuals who were held for further immigration screening, as well as policies and directives about how the Harford County Sheriff’s Office identified who they would target for screening.
“While the nation has been rightfully outraged about the separation of children from their parents by ICE, victims of racially biased immigration enforcement policies exist at our front steps when local police partner with ICE, and local communities are the ones to suffer for it,” said Nick Steiner, Equal Justice Works Immigrants’ Rights Fellow at the ACLU of Maryland. “We need to know the truth. It’s a serious government accountability problem if 287(g) agreements between local police agencies and ICE mean that Maryland communities are kept in the dark about how their local sheriffs operate their police departments.”
287(g) is a program that gives a job meant for the federal government – immigration enforcement – to local law enforcement who receive little training and often use practices that amount to racial profiling. Three Maryland counties – Frederick, Anne Arundel and Harford County – are actively using local police agencies to target and cage immigrants for ICE as part of the federal 287(g) program. This is disturbing because 287(g) agreements undermine public safety, encourage racial profiling, and weaken families that make our state strong.
287(g) programs do not focus on individuals suspected of violent offenses. According to the Frederick County 2012 Annual Report, 88 percent of detainers issued by ICE were for misdemeanors, many of which were traffic violations. In fact, the majority of the over 1,400 people detained for ICE and processed for deportation in Frederick were for non-violent offenses.
On November 28, 2017, the Harford County Sheriff issued a press release touting the success of its 287(g) program, based on the number of people detained for deportation. But the press release offered scant information to allow the public to evaluate the claim. Since then, the ACLU has been fighting to get more information both from the Harford County Sheriff’s office through a Maryland Public Information Act request, and from ICE, through a FOIA request. Although the Sheriff has the data that we are asking for, he claims the data belongs to ICE, not local law enforcement, so it cannot be released under the MPIA. For its part, ICE has claimed that the Freedom of Information Act does not require them to release the requested information to the public. That is unacceptable. ICE and local police departments must be held accountable to the local communities they serve.
Added Nick Steiner: “Especially because sheriffs are elected to office, how can the public hold this elected official accountable when they don’t know whether their police officers are criminalizing people because of where they were born or profiling people based on what they look or sound like?”
The ACLU of Maryland is represented by Steven R. Johnson and Timothy F. McCormack of Ballard Spahr LLP, as well as ACLU of Maryland Equal Justice Works Fellow Nick Steiner.