By Maite Fernandez
WASHINGTON (February 1, 2011) A significant number of Hispanic immigrants moved away from Frederick and Prince William counties after they adopted an illegal-immigration enforcement program giving state and local officers the power to screen people for immigration status and start the deportation process, according to a study released Monday.
The report, prepared by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, studied the application of the 287(g) immigration enforcement program. The program enables local law enforcement agents to enforce federal immigration law by inquiring about a person's legal status out in the field or in jail.
Frederick County, Md., lost 61 percent of its Hispanic noncitizen population between 2007 and 2009, dropping from dropping from 5,000 to 2,000 - a reversal of the demographic pattern before the program's implementation.
Prince William County, Va., lost 21 percent of its Hispanic noncitizens in the same period, dropping from 32,100 to 25,500, the report said.
The study also found a slight increase in the noncitizen population in neighboring counties, including Fairfax and Montgomery. These jurisdictions have been "more welcoming toward immigrants," the report said.
Maryland ranks 10th among states in the size of its undocumented immigrant population, having an estimated 275,000 undocumented immigrants living within its borders, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Hispanic Center. That makes it sixth in terms of undocumented immigrants as a share of the state's population. Undocumented immigrants account for 4.6 percent of Maryland's population.
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said he doesn't see a problem with the enforcement program or the way the county is implementing it.
"These folks have broken the law by being in the country illegally. I make no apology on how we are implementing the program," he said.
He added: "We are doing everything within the framework of the law and the 287(g) program."
The report found that how the program is applied varies greatly between jurisdictions across the nation.
Broadly looking at seven jurisdictions, the study concluded that the 287(g) program is applied in a targeted way in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and the state of Colorado. In these areas, local authorities focus on U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's top priorities by targeting "security threats, serious or dangerous criminals (i.e. felons), and other threats to public safety, as well as unauthorized citizens with existing orders of removal."
Frederick County, Md., and Cobb County in Atlanta apply the enforcement program in a more universal way, the study said. They aim to "identify and apprehend as many unauthorized immigrants as possible," regardless of whether they committed a serious criminal or immigration violation in addition to being unauthorized.
In many of those cases illegal immigrants were targeted after committing traffic offenses, such as driving without a license.
In Frederick County, traffic offenders comprised more than 60 percent of the detainees during FY 2010, whereas serious criminals accounted for almost 20 percent. The other 20 percent had committed misdemeanors, the study said.
"Where the program is applied in a general way ... it has a negative impact in the community," said Mark R. Rosenblum, senior policy analyst at MPI and co-author of the report. Immigrants are more likely to avoid public places and refrain from driving, for instance.
They are "more reluctant to go to school activities or go to church," Rosenblum said. In Frederick County, pastors said they observed their congregations were less involved, he added.
The undocumented immigrants also tend to show fear and mistrust of police and are reluctant to report crimes, said Randy Capps, senior policy analyst at MPI and one of the report's authors.
Jenkins, of Frederick County, said he didn't "buy into" the argument that immigrants weren't reporting crimes out of fear of contacting police.
The MPI recommends applying the program in a targeted way, investigating racial profiling and generating more community outreach.
The MPI study used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, public school enrollment and ICE, and interviews with local authorities and community leaders, to document Hispanic noncitizen population two to three years after the implementation of 287(g).
The ICE program, authorized in the 287(g) section of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996, is now implemented in 72 jurisdictions across the nation.
Frederick County adopted the program in February 2008, and is the only county in Maryland currently enforcing it.