Montgomery County Backtracks on ICE Policy

Of rakes, the squeaky wheel, and the thin blue line

By Andrew R. Arthur on November 6, 2019

Along with many others, I have written and spoken extensively about the poorly thought-out sanctuary "Promoting Community Trust" executive order that was pushed by Montgomery County (Md.) County Executive Marc Elrich, and supported (in defensive and over-the-top terms) by the Montgomery County Council. It appears as if the public outrage over nine sexual-assault arrests following the issuance of that order have had an effect, as the county executive has had to backtrack on his denial of ICE access to criminal aliens in the county jail. That outrage was likely not the only factor at play, but it certainly had an effect. The squeaky wheel does get the grease, sometimes.

Fox News reports that Elrich will now give "ICE agents access to certain areas of the county jail in order to apprehend illegal aliens." Allowing such access is only exceptional in the context of the outrageous executive order from which the county executive is now retreating.

As I have previously noted, that order "bars ICE from non-public areas in the County jail, in other words, where the criminals are kept." Or at least it did. Specifically, pursuant to the terms of that order:

No agent or department may utilize County services to coordinate with an immigration enforcement official in furtherance of a civil immigration enforcement operation by:

(1) permitting immigration enforcement officials access to non-public space within a government facility;

(2) permitting immigration enforcement officials access to a person being detained by, or in the custody of, the agent or department; or

(3) permitting immigration enforcement officials use of non-public space within a government facility, information or equipment for investigative interviews or other investigative purposes.

Any request received by an agent or department from immigration enforcement agents or officials to detain or notify immigration officials regarding a person in custody shall be provided or communicated to the subject of such request within 48 hours. Where such requests are in writing, the subject of the request shall be provided a copy of the request. [Emphasis added.]

Local ABC affiliate WJLA explains the change, and its limitations:

Effective immediately, Montgomery County correctional officers have been instructed to grant ICE clearance to "identified areas" of the jail to "ensure that transfers are conducted in a safe environment," ...

That level of cooperation, however, mandates that ICE submit an immigration detainer and arrive at the jail along Seven Locks Road in Rockville prior to the defendant's scheduled release time.

The inmate discharge process can take less than an hour. In other instances, it can take nearly half a day. That wide range in time is based on numerous factors including jail staffing, inmate population, and home address verification checks.

Should ICE fail to submit the proper detainer paperwork — or simply get caught in traffic on Interstate 95 — Montgomery County will continue to free undocumented immigrants via the jail lobby, regardless of the charges they stand accused of.

Having made the commute between Baltimore, where the local ICE office is located, and Washington, D.C., on I–95 more than 1,500 times over the course of almost nine years, that "caught in traffic" caveat is a significant one. One bad driver, inclement weather, or police activity can turn that 42- to 46-mile trek into an hours-long odyssey.

And, as Kevin Lewis at WJLA has noted, Elrich has not exactly been simpatico with ICE's travails: "'We're an hour's drive from Baltimore, assuming everybody [at ICE is] just sitting around in an office in Baltimore,' Elrich told reporters during a late August press conference. 'The idea that they can't get here is ludicrous.'" Because, you know, ICE agents are simply sitting around drinking coffee and waiting at the county executive's beck and call.

Lewis also notes the limitations on the county executive's largesse:

Elrich's immigration policy continues to prohibit ICE agents from entering secure portions of the jail for any reason aside from pre-authorized custody transfers. ICE agents are also banned from non-public areas of all county-owned facilities to include libraries, police stations and recreation centers.

It is not entirely clear why MoCo (in local parlance) would want to bar ICE agents from police stations — I have known and worked with several over the years and have found them to be honest and diligent folks. If MoCo is concerned that they will take clerical supplies, their caution is misplaced.

And the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is more than willing to help out the locality, as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Ken Cuccinelli has made clear in a recent tweet:

This is just a guess, but public pressure about his ridiculous executive order may not be the only factor influencing County Executive Elrich. The Washington Post has reported: "On Oct. 28, National First Responders Day, a 'thin blue line' flag was donated to the 5th District police station in Germantown by a resident — identified by police as James Shelton — and his young son. [Montgomery] County police said on Twitter that the flag would be displayed at the station."

That is nice gesture you would think — a man and his son showing support for the local police. You would be wrong, at least in some precincts — Elrich ordered it removed, stating: "The flag provides a symbol of support to some but it is a symbol of dismissiveness to others. ... Under my administration, we are committed to improving police relations with the community and will immediately address any action that stands against our mission."

"[I]mmediately address any action that stands against our mission"? Like protecting immigrant communities from criminals? But I digress.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) was among those who criticized Elrich's actions, stating in a tweet:

Don't for a minute think that this is a simple Democrat vs. Republican dustup. I have no opinion whatsoever on such symbols, and I am sure that there are points to be made on both sides. But Governor Hogan is a savvy political operator: The Washington Post reported in October that Hogan has a 64 percent approval rating, explaining: "In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, Hogan — who is term-limited — continues to draw support from a broad coalition, including 8 in 10 registered Republicans, about 7 in 10 independents and 6 in 10 Democrats." If Larry Hogan (who supports House Democrats' impeachment inquiry) calls you out politically, you likely made a miscalculation.

Through all of this, Elrich has been like the Simpsons' character, Sideshow Bob, continuously stepping on rakes that hit him in the face with every turn he makes. He is the out-of-touch uncle trying to bond with his teenage nieces and nephews by expressing his appreciation of hip-hop (or a 53-year-old pundit talking about hip-hop). He could have kept doubling down on bad ideas, or he could have backtracked in the face of pressure by receding from his most-bad idea (not "worst" — "most-bad"; it is quite the list).

He did the latter as it relates to ICE's ability to at least try to keep criminals off the street of Maryland's largest county (by population), a major gateway to our Nation's Capital. But there is so much more harm he can undo. In the interim, all that law-enforcement can do is wait for the next rake. It is sure to come.