By Krist Boardman
Is Sheriff Gahler The Sheriff Joe Arpaio Of Harford County? The answer to that question is no, not yet, and hopefully, not ever.
But Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler is starting a program that clearly targets Latinos and who knows Syrian refugees. It is only one program among less than three dozen being run in counties by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) across the U.S. among the country’s 6,000-plus counties, to screen for undocumented immigrants.
Here is what Sheriff Gahler says, to quote from the Baltimore Sun: “What we ‘re going to do is, screen every single individual that comes into the detention center, after our deputies are trained, and identify those who are here illegally and further victimizing the community.”
First of all, I am assuming that people coming into the detention center were arrested for something, from jaywalking to murder. It is the job of arresting deputies to determine if that arrestee has other outstanding warrants, to fingerprint (said individual) to check them against the NCIC database and to ask other relevant questions. So why should they get paid further for doing their jobs which they were going to do anyway?
Federal courts in Arizona already told Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County that his deputies are not to enforce federal immigration laws, and when Arpaio dismissed and disregarded the federal judges, he was eventually cited for contempt of court and for violating laws against racial profiling. Arpaio has already been served with the charging papers from the federal court amid a bruising re-election campaign which the 84-year-old lawman may not survive. He could spend up to six months in jail if convicted.
What is puzzling about this situation is that the contracting agency with the Harford Sheriff’s Office is ICE, a federal agency. Why there is a perceived need for such a program in Harford County which does not even share a border with Mexico as does Maricopa County, has not been explained. Is there a problem of illegal immigration in Harford County? The sheriff should explain why there are problems in both Harford and Frederick County where there is a similar program, but nowhere else in Maryland. Or is this just a feel-good program for right wing sheriffs who want to prepare for the illegal immigrant round up just in case Donald Trump gets elected? What is Sheriff Gahler’s strategy for dealing with federal courts which may decide he is being overzealous in enforcing federal laws when his job is to enforce local and state laws? How much of the taxpayers’ money is he going to spend defending himself and his agency against federal courts? These are issues that Sheriff Arpaio is facing in his re-election campaign.
Sheriff Gahler’s statement equates being here illegally with “further victimizing the community.” One justification for the program in Frederick County used was it helped counteract gang activity. Maybe so, but criminal gangs from Mexico and Central America have traditionally been associated with the drug trafficking industry. The Drug Enforcement Administration, border patrol and ICE among other agencies deal with that. If I were here illegally just trying to hold down a low paying job or two to support my family, I probably wouldn’t have the time or energy to do criminal activity, especially of the organized variety done by gangs, and I would resent the insinuation that I was “further victimizing the community” when all I was doing was working hard for others. But nobody cares about their opinions and they seldom express them anyway.
My guess is that the sheriff is looking at the money that ICE should not spend in Harford County, money that belongs to the taxpayers. $9.7 million was reportedly spent in Frederick County in 2014. If Sheriff Gahler wants and needs more money for his agency, he should first of all tell the Republican-controlled Harford County Council not to vote themselves a pay raise; and secondly, he should tell the county and state to honor their commitment to pay the increases promised to the deputies several years ago.
And if he truly wants immigration reform, he should tell the Republican-dominated Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and stop playing these types of games. Unless there are some tectonic plate shifts, Mexico and Central American states will be our neighbors for millions of years to come and it’s past time we had some meaningful reforms that deal with the real problems affecting real people on both sides of the borders.