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September 12, 2023

Trone urges feds to end immigration enforcement agreement with Frederick Co. sheriff

Credit: Baltimore Banner

U.S. Rep. David Trone on Tuesday urged the Biden administration to terminate an immigration enforcement agreement between the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, citing anti-immigrant statements by the embattled sheriff and numerous reports of civil rights violations by his agency.

Last month, Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins announced that he had reinstated himself to full-duty status even as he continues to face federal charges of improperly helping a gun shop owner acquire machine guns. Jenkins, a Republican in his fifth term, was indicted in April by a federal grand jury and ordered to surrender his firearms. Jenkins pleaded not guilty. His attorneys say he received nothing of value and had no intent to commit a violation of the law.

Trone, a Democrat who represents much of Western Maryland in Congress and is running for the U.S. Senate, echoed concerns detailed by the American Civil Rights Union in a complaint last July.

“Although Sheriff Jenkins is free to disagree with current immigration policy and has the right to express his views, the federal government can, and should, refuse to grant federal immigration powers to individuals like Jenkins who use their platform to stoke hatred and fear of immigrants — and thereby undermine public safety for all,” Trone wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas.

The sheriff’s office declined comment Monday night on Trone’s letter and the ACLU complaint.

In July, the ACLU and its Maryland chapter filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, asking its Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to investigate what it called the sheriff’s “misuse of office to stoke anti-immigrant racism.”

The complaint asked DHS to look into racial disparities in policing, reports of racial profiling, inhumane jail conditions and limited transparency and accountability to the the public. In March 2023, the complaint alleges, “dozens of individuals detained were reportedly forced to endure a sewage system collapse that surrounded them in human feces for hours.” The civil liberties group questioned the propriety of continuing the agreement with the county sheriff’s office.

Relations between the sheriff’s office and the immigrant community have deteriorated since the agreement was put in place in 2008, Trone and the ACLU contend.

The congressman wrote that Jenkins had referred to immigrants as “inherently violent” and “hardcore gangbangers,” playing into stereotypes that dehumanize them. The ACLU complaint said Jenkins had once stated police should “round these people up and maybe placing them in Guantanamo until we can deport ‘em.”

According to Trone’s letter, a 2017 study found the federal-county agreement had led to a “significantly higher number of arrests” by the sheriff’s office. He said arrests of Latino people had increased by “11 to 13″ per month than would be expected without the program.

“The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office has demonstrated that it’s unfit to use its federal immigration powers in a lawful and impartial way,” Trone wrote. “The egregious actions of Sheriff Jenkins under this program are unacceptable, and it’s time for the federal government to take a stand in defense of civil rights across Maryland.”

Nick Steiner, a staff attorney at ACLU of Maryland, said Black and brown immigrants have endured the sheriff’s office misconduct for “far too long.”

“The federal government should stop empowering a law enforcement official who seems to believe he is above the law, who is xenophobic against immigrants in the community he is supposed to serve, and who has been indicted for federal crimes,” Steiner said, according to Trone’s press release. “Enough is enough.”

Trone is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for the seat of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, who is not seeking reelection in 2024. Trone represents all or part of Montgomery, Frederick, Garrett, Allegany, and Washington counties.