Montgomery County Council Beclowns Itself in Covering Its Sanctuary Incompetence

By Andrew R. Arthur on September 12, 2019

Recently, I have written (and spoken) about the ill-thought-out decision by Montgomery County, Md., (MoCo in local parlance) to institute an extreme "sanctuary policy". That policy bars compliance with ICE detainers, prevents ICE officers from accessing non-public areas in MoCo public jails, and restricts county employees' assistance to ICE in investigating criminal aliens. The rollout of that policy was particularly poorly timed, in light of press reports shortly thereafter about seven arrests of illegal aliens for sexual assault in the county in a matter of weeks. This all was made worse by some especially stupid remarks comparing ICE enforcement to terrorism made by MoCo Executive Marc Elrich (D) in connection with that rollout. Not wanting to be outdone, the MoCo Council decided to weigh in on the criticism of the policy, making matters worse.

The following is an excerpt from an undated letter issued by the council:

There has been a lot [sic] inaccurate information spread by the White House, President Trump, Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli, local and national conservative news outlets and neo-Nazi sympathizers regarding our criminal justice system and its process. These individuals and organizations should be ashamed for spreading false information seeking to establish a baseless, illogical and xenophobic connection between a person's failure to obtain legal status and their propensity to commit a sex crime.

There is so much to unpack here (not counting the typographical error).

First, there is no practical difference between the "White House" and the president. There is an anecdote that, as president, Gerald Ford barred telephone operators from answering "White House" when calls came in because "buildings can't talk."

Second, I am not sure whether President Trump (or the "White House") has even weighed in on the issue. The policy, however, was plainly a rebuke to his immigration enforcement, so it would only have been reasonable for him to have spoken about it, but the press release does not cite any quotes from him, and I am not aware of any.

Acting Director Cuccinelli did, however, weigh in on the controversy in a September 3, 2019, tweet, in which he forwarded a post that I had written on the policy and the resulting arrests:

The next day, he sent out another tweet, this time linking to a Fox News interview by Tucker Carlson with Vince Coglianese, a host with local radio station WMAL:

Coglianese asserted that "cops and prosecutors are furious" that MoCo "is a place where illegal immigration is protected at all costs, even at the expense of the community," and have made these cases public. He also noted that Elrich had issued the executive order in question.

It is logical for Cuccinelli to tweet out criticism of a county policy that deliberately impedes immigration enforcement efforts to remove criminals, at risk to the community. Does the MoCo Council expect an official who plays a key role in our immigration system to stand idly by while the county does so? The council fails, however, to even attempt to argue (let alone explain) how any of the information contained in either of these tweets is "false" or "inaccurate". Nothing I stated in my post was, and there is nothing in Coglianese's statements to Carlson that appears to be, either.

Third (and most curiously) the MoCo Council references "inaccurate information" spread by "neo-Nazi sympathizers", but fails to identify the "neo-Nazi sympathizers" in question. The idea that any reasonable person would be influenced by the opinions of neo-Nazi sympathizers in 2019 is questionable in the extreme, however.

Likely, the reason why the MoCo Council included the uncited reference to "neo-Nazi sympathizers" was to paint the others listed (the president, Cuccinelli, and "local and national conservative news outlets") with the same brush, and to argue, implicitly, that the others are in league with "neo-Nazi sympathizers". In doing so, they have proven "Godwin's Law":

A law that states that as the length of a thread proceeds on a newsgroup the probability of a comparison with Hitler or the Nazis approaches one. A number of groups have the tradition that when this happens the discussion is regarded as over.

At least they proved something. As noted, here is the sole reference to "inaccurate information" that the council provides: "These individuals and organizations should be ashamed for spreading false information seeking to establish a baseless, illogical and xenophobic connection between a person's failure to obtain legal status and their propensity to commit a sex crime."

Again, the council does not state what "false information" they are referring to. If there is a fact that disputes, as Kevin Davis from local ABC affiliate WJLA has stated, that "[i]n the last six weeks Montgomery County Police have arrested at least seven undocumented immigrants for allegedly raping and sexually assaulting females in Germantown, Rockville, Silver Spring, and Wheaton," they should provide it, or at least link to it. They don't.

As importantly, I have followed (and as noted above, participated) in the public conversation about this issue since the beginning, and I never remember anyone (the president, Cuccinelli, any news outlet, or me) "seeking to establish a baseless, illogical and xenophobic connection between a person's failure to obtain legal status [a euphemism that merits its own analysis] and their propensity to commit a sex crime," or any other kind of connection, either. Rather, the point has been that in blocking ICE access to criminal aliens, sanctuary cities endanger their own residents: citizens, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants.

Not that all people who have "fail[ed] to obtain legal status" are more likely to be sex offenders, only that criminals who have "fail[ed] to obtain legal status" (in their terms) should be turned over to ICE and removed before they commit more crimes. As I stated in the post Acting Director Cuccinelli tweeted: "Simply put, sanctuary laws like those in Montgomery County only protect criminals." (Emphasis added.) In fact, I continued:

One point that is usually overlooked is the fact that sanctuary laws fall hardest on members of immigrant communities. Many if not most of these alien criminals live, and commit their crimes in, those communities. By turning vicious criminals back out on the street, Montgomery County allows them to prey on all residents, and in particular other immigrants, making those immigrants less safe, not more.

To his credit, Cuccinelli has not taken the MoCo council's screed lying down. He tweeted in response:

On September 8, 2019, the Washington Post reported on County Executive Elrich's reply:

"It's a stunt," Elrich shot back in an interview Friday. "I might debate him if he'd agree with the statement that Montgomery County is not a 'sanctuary city' and that Montgomery County is not protecting criminals. ... The guys in jail would probably not feel very protected."

If I were Cuccinelli, I would not accept those conditions (but still demand a debate) because Elrich is wrong in his characterizations (except that MoCo is not a "sanctuary city", it is a "sanctuary county"). Notably, the executive order contains the following provisions:

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.

What possible goal is effectuated by these policies except to "protect[] criminals" (or at least those persons MoCo believes strongly enough to have committed a crime that it arrested them)? This is especially, but not exclusively, true of the requirement that the arrestee be notified of the ICE detainer or notification request. These policies do not protect the police. They do not protect federal government agents. They do not protect the alleged victim. They only protect the alien who is in the MoCo jail after being arrested for a crime.

The Post notes that Elrich is reconsidering at least part of the policy:

He said Friday he is open to possibly allowing ICE back into the Montgomery Detention Center to take custody of suspects facing release who have detainers in place.

"We're having a conversation about whether we're putting anybody in jeopardy" by requiring ICE agents to wait or act in public places rather than the controlled confines of a secured area in the jail, he said.

Again, if the reporting about MoCo's policy is undergirded by "false" or "inaccurate" information spread by, among others, "neo-Nazi sympathizers" (as the council claims), Elrich's "open[ness]" to rescinding part of that policy is strange, indeed. But Elrich's response is not strange, because the council is wrong.

There is a fourth, final point to be made. It is one thing for private individuals to throw around scurrilous and ad hominem allegations about "neo-Nazi sympathizers" and "xenophobi[a]". When a public body, like the MoCo Council, does it, however, it is an official government action. The "White House, President Trump, Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli, [and] local and national conservative news outlets" have a right to free speech protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is difficult to see the council's actions as anything other than an attempt to chill the exercise of that right: "Criticize our policy and be driven from the public square."

MoCo police wear a patch that incorporates the county's coat of arms, including its motto, "Gardez Bien," that is "guard well." As it relates to my right to comment on the laws and the policies of Montgomery County, Md., I for one will do so.