A Tale of Two Counties: Which Way Will Maryland Go?



Earlier this year, Maryland legislators were stopped in their tracks from turning the entire state into a sanctuary for illegal aliens, fueled largely by a notorious rape case at Rockville High School.  Though most of the charges in that case were ultimately dropped, two Maryland counties more recently showed just how sharply divided the state remains on the issue of illegal immigration, and what a stark choice it may face again in the near future.

In Montgomery County, which has long been a sanctuary county and which continues to adopt ever more dangerous sanctuary policies, a gruesome murder was uncovered in the woods of Wheaton Regional Park in September.

It took roughly two months for local authorities working with the U.S. Marshals’ Service to find and arrest their first suspect for the murder, who had already fled as far as North Carolina.  When he was found, Miguel Angel Lopez-Abrego, a known MS-13 member, was with two other members of the gang wanted for violent crimes in Maryland, including an assault in the very same park.

Lopez-Abrego made his first court appearance in Montgomery County on November 22, when he was ordered held without bond.  Unsurprisingly, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) indicated he was in the United States illegally.

Montgomery County has had a policy since 2014 of not honoring immigration detainers: detainers are requests from ICE to local law enforcement to hold an illegal alien for up to 48 hours after release on state charges so that ICE has time to pick them up.  The Montgomery County Council passed a resolution in 2016 directing the county’s law enforcement officers not to enforce immigration law or ask about people’s immigration status.  And as recently as September of this year, the Montgomery County Police Department adopted a new policy directive of intentionally ignoring ICE administrative warrants: not just not arresting people discovered to have them, which would be bad enough, but not even stopping anyone with one for further investigation.

It’s at least possible the Wheaton Park murder might have been prevented if these policies hadn’t been in place. Lopez-Abrego had previously been arrested by Montgomery County Police for a misdemeanor theft charge and failed to appear for court: under the county’s sanctuary policies, ICE was almost certainly not notified of that case.

Just like San Francisco’s policies, which Kate Steinle’s killer Jose Garcia Zarate admitted attracted him to repeatedly return, Montgomery County’s sanctuary policies not only serve as a beacon to illegal immigration but also created the dangerous environment in which the murder was committed, where violent MS-13 members and other criminal aliens have no real fear they’ll ever be removed from the communities they prey upon.

Meanwhile, less than 70 miles north is Harford County, which has adopted what amounts to the opposite of sanctuary policies: it has been a 287(g) county for just over a year, named after the section of federal law that allows state and local law enforcement to contract with ICE and have their officers trained and certified to assist in federal immigration enforcement.  According to Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler,  this has been “hugely successful”: every person booked into the county jail is screened for ICE, and 44 have been identified for deportation, an average of about one per week.

If the 44 illegal aliens identified in the Harford County Jail in the past year had been arrested in Montgomery County, there’s a very good chance most of them would already be back out on the streets reoffending.  Instead, Harford County gave ICE the chance to start removing them from the local community and the country for good.

So Maryland has a very clear choice.  Sanctuary policies expose citizens to avoidable crimes, while participation in 287(g) takes dangerous criminals off the streets.

About Author

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Dave joined FAIR in 2017 after more than ten years as an Assistant State Attorney in Broward County, Florida. His prosecutorial experience covered trial litigation at the misdemeanor and felony levels, drug court and mental health court, and two years as an intake attorney in the juvenile division working closely with law enforcement. Before this, he was a legislative analyst/staff attorney with the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives, where he assisted state legislators in ensuring the effectiveness and constitutionality of legislation on a wide variety of subject matter. In both capacities, he often dealt with the interaction of state law and immigration. Dave holds BAs in History and International Relations from American University and a JD from Tulane University Law School.

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