In Montgomery, residents protest Secure Communities (Maryland)

In Montgomery, residents protest Secure Communities
Police spokesman: Program will not change approach to victims, witnesses
by Kate S. Alexander, Staff Writer

Grasping images of immigrants facing deportation and hoisting hand-painted signs in the air, a group of about two dozen Montgomery County residents protested the federal Secure Communities program Wednesday and asked Montgomery County officials to refuse its implementation.

Montgomery County is the last of two Maryland jurisdictions to implement the federal program that requires FBI officials to share fingerprints they receive from county jails with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The program began Wednesday in the county, said Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation Director Arthur Wallenstein.

However, for more than a decade, the county has provided ICE with the names of every incoming prisoner who reports being born outside of the United States, Wallenstein has said.

Hosted by the advocacy group Casa of Maryland, protesters denounced Secure Communities from the courtyard of the County Executive Building at 101 Monroe St. in Rockville.

Casa believes that every Montgomery County resident would be affected by the program, which it calls anti-immigrant, through the disintegration of police-community relations.

“We call this program ‘insecure communities,'” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa of Maryland. “Because it is going to impact the relationship between the police and the communities in general and in particular the immigrant communities.”

While supporters say the program will make the county safer, opponents said it would lead to more crime and racial profiling.

Secure Communities will not change how the Montgomery County Police Department operates, said police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks.

“We are the same police department today as we were last week and last month,” he said.

Montgomery County Police has long advocated to communities that, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, if someone is the victim or witness to a crime, then police need to hear from them, Starks said.

“Our police officers are not going to ask status; we are trying to solve local crime here,” he said.

Speaking in Spanish on Wednesday, Florinda Desimilian of Hyattsville described being arrested last year at her former home in Prince George’s County, detained for four days and then turned over to ICE as part of Secure Communities. While charges against her for operating a business without a proper license were dropped, according to information from Casa, she said she still faces a deportation order.

Yves Gomes of Burtonsville described how his family, which had lived in the U.S. since 1994, applied for permanent residency and was denied. In 2008, the family’s legal status expired. His father was later pulled over by police on his way home from work for a broken tail light only to be arrested when his status was found to be illegal.

“And that was the last time I ever saw him,” he said.

Both Gomes and Desimilian implored the county to prevent others from feeling similar pain.

Ajmel A. Quereshi, a lawyer and professor of law at Howard University said that the county is within its rights to limit its participation in Secure Communities under the protection of the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Courts have interpreted the amendment to mean that the federal government has only the power granted it in the constitution.