Thursday, January 8, 2009

Major changes proposed in county immigration policy - The Sentinel

By Joe Slaninka | Staff Writer

After numerous communijavascript:void(0)ty forums and meetings over the last few months, officials say they are hearing the citizens of Montgomery County about illegal immigration in the county.

A proposal, developed by Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger, asks for the approval to question suspects, arrested of violent crimes and weapons offenses, about their immigration status, a complete reversal in a county where government officials, for years, refused to do so even when neighboring jurisdictions adopted the practice.

"All public officials have been receiving questions from citizens who are asking, 'Why are persons who are in the country illegally or unlawfully allowed to remain?'" said Assistant Police Chief Wayne Jerman.

The proposal comes after police charged two reportedly illegal aliens for the shooting of 14-year old Blair student Tai Lam in early November, and charged another alleged illegal alien for a year-long string of home invasions that left Mary Havenstein, 63, dead in her Bethesda home.

Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery) said she has expressed concern to Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who needs to approve the proposal before it can be implemented, that it could lead to racial profiling.

"What we are saying is: "Hold it. You may be going down a slippery, slippery slope,'" she said.

Brad Botwin, Director of Help Save Maryland, a group who fights to help preserve Maryland communities from illegal immigration, said the proposal "seems gang-focused" and "falls way short" of what they are calling for.

Botwin said the proposal allows police to question a suspect about their immigration status when they are charged for violent crimes such as murder, armed robbery, assault, rape or other various sex crimes. Jerman said that if an arresting officer suspects a person of being in the country illegally, the officer could ask about their immigration status, and would be required to refer the issue to federal government officials.

"We want a full background check on anyone incarcerated for violent crimes, as well as anyone pulled over for a traffic violation," Botwin said. "We want an [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agent in the jails to process these people. This proposal is only good for after they find the bloody knife or gun, and by that time it is just way too late."

Police said the two suspects arrested for the murder of Tai Lam, Gilmar Romero, 20, and Hector M. Hernandez, 20, were arrested in the past, but their immigration status were overlooked.

Romero was arrested in June on a weapons charge after police said he walked down University Boulevard East in Silver Spring in the middle of the day concealing a machete. Police arrested Hernandez in October for possessing a switchblade and threatening a student at Northwood High School.

State's Attorney John McCarthy said he supports the proposal, and said it "helps public safety."

Neighboring Frederick County and Prince William County, in Virginia, both have similar laws that prevent people from living in the country unlawfully.

Last year Frederick County adopted Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows police officers to inquire anyone about their immigration status only if the person violates the law. Anyone suspected of living in the country illegally is detained until federal immigration officials are notified.

Prince William County implemented a law last year, requiring every jurisdiction's jail to alert federal authorities of every foreign-born inmate, regardless of immigration status.

Botwin said Leggett has agreed to meet with him and other members of Help Save Maryland, on Jan. 16, to discuss the issue.

"We are going in there and pounding are fists on the table," Botwin said.

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