By Adam Pagnucco.
Governor Larry Hogan is now exploiting the rape of a Rockville high school student to get a political edge over General Assembly Democrats. It’s a clearly deplorable tactic. But will it work?
Two big stories are colliding at the moment to further inflame the volatile issue of how to deal with illegal immigration. First, the House of Delegates has passed a version of the Maryland Law Enforcement and Trust Act, a bill to limit state and local cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) so that immigrant communities will not hide from police for fear of arbitrary deportation. Second, two students at Rockville High School have been arrested for raping a 14-year-old at the school and were subsequently alleged by ICE to be present in the country illegally.
Governor Hogan reacted with the Facebook post below, saying:
The post garnered 700 shares and 500 comments in its first five hours, accomplishing its purpose of throwing gasoline on the fire of the immigration debate.
The implication of the Governor’s post is that Montgomery County does not currently cooperate with federal authorities. But in fact, it does. The Washington Post’s Bill Turque summarized the county’s immigration policy a month ago:
Montgomery police operate under a 2009 directive that bars officers from conducting “indiscriminate questioning” of suspects, witnesses or prisoners about immigration status. Once in custody, all prisoners are fingerprinted, and arrest information goes into state databases, where it is available to ICE. If the agency identifies an undocumented prisoner, it can send the county a “detainer” notice, asking that the person remain in custody for at least 48 hours beyond the scheduled release date.
The county complied with detainers until 2014, when the Maryland attorney general’s office issued an opinion advising localities that they could be liable for damages by holding prisoners past their release date.
Since then, Montgomery officials said, the county honors detainers only if they are supported by a federal court order or warrant. It will also provide ICE publicly available release dates of undocumented immigrants who have committed felonies and whom the agency is seeking to deport.
The county has released hundreds of prisoners to ICE since 2012, though the pace of releases has dropped since the county stopped honoring 48-hour detainers. The amended version of the House-passed Trust Act resembles county policy. On the Rockville High School rape suspects, County Executive Ike Leggett said, “The county — consistent with our longstanding policy — will cooperate fully with ICE to see that the two are deported to their countries of origin.”
Why would Hogan insinuate that Montgomery County does not cooperate with federal law enforcement to protect its citizens? Hogan knows that there is little support in the community for protecting violent criminals from deportation. A new CNN poll finds that 60% of Americans believe the government should be “developing a plan to allow those in the U.S. illegally who have jobs to become legal residents,” but it also finds that 78% of Americans believe that “the government should attempt to deport all people currently living in the country illegally who have been convicted of other crimes while living in the U.S.” Big majorities of every demographic group measured support the latter statement, including 64% of Democrats.
Depicting Maryland’s largest local jurisdiction as soft on crime is bad enough. Exploiting a rape for political gain is even worse. Such tactics expose just how hard the Governor can throw his elbows in partisan combat. Forget about engaging with General Assembly leaders to develop good public policy; the Governor has never been interested in that. But the cold political truth is this:
If Hogan can get away with characterizing Democrats as protectors of rapists and other criminals, he wins.