Update: Elrich Says Trump Administration Wrong in Criticism of Montgomery Executive Order on ICE Collaboration

Update: Elrich Says Trump Administration Wrong in Criticism of Montgomery Executive Order on ICE Collaboration

Council statement also defends policy

| Published:

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and President Donald Trump

Official White House photo via Wikipedia

After recent criticism from the Trump administration, Montgomery County elected officials are defending an executive order that prohibits county agencies from collaborating with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The White House specifically referenced the order and County Executive Marc Elrich in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

“Last month, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich ordered the county’s agencies not to cooperate with ICE—and protect criminals instead,” the post read. “Since July 25, 7 illegal aliens protected by the ‘sanctuary’ county have been arrested for rape and sexual assaults.”

The post linked to a Fox News article on the arrests.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), added to the chorus on Friday afternoon with a series of tweets, which also addressed a statement issued by the Montgomery County Council in response to White House criticism.

“Montgomery County, MD cannot debate the failure of its sanctuary policies on the merits (7 violent assaults, rape etc. incl child victims in ~1 month), so they resort to ad hominem attacks using nazi implications,” he wrote.

“If MontCo Chairman [sic] Elrich thinks the sanctuary policy they are so proud of is so good, I challenge him to a debate on the subject,” Cuccinelli continued.

In an interview Monday morning, Elrich said he had no interest in debating Cuccinelli.

“I’m not going to debate him because his grasp on the facts is so wrong,” the county executive said. “I don’t want to debate someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

Elrich added that his biggest issue with criticism from the White House and Cuccinelli was the characterization of Montgomery as a “sanctuary county.”

Montgomery County hasn’t cooperated with most federal immigrant detainers since 2014, he said — a policy introduced by former County Executive Ike Leggett. But the Department of Corrections does notify ICE in some cases when an undocumented immigrant with a federal detainer order — a notice that ICE intends to assume custody of the individual — is released from jail.

Even that level of cooperation means that Montgomery can’t be labeled as a “sanctuary county,” Elrich argued.

The department recently amended its notification policy after a well-publicized spat with ICE over a Salvadoran man charged with rape in August. The man was released after posting bail despite a federal detainer order.

Elrich dismissed the agency’s request for at least 48 hours of notice as “ridiculous.” But he did say that corrections officers should have called the second number listed on a contact form distributed by the agency. The only number the county called was for an ICE representative who was traveling outside the area and missed the call.

“In that case, we made a mistake,” Elrich said. “We should have called the second number and I instructed them to do that in the future. So, if we were really a sanctuary county, there would be none of that cooperation.”

But ICE has also released other suspects on bail after taking custody of them. Elrich referred to a statement from the agency on Nestor Vladimir Lopez-Guzman, another Salvadoran immigrant arrested in Montgomery County for child sex abuse. ICE took custody of Nestor Vladimir Lopez-Guzman on Aug. 20, according to the release, and released him on Aug. 21 after he posted an immigration bond.

“I’m not saying [ICE] did anything wrong. I’m just saying they’re a bunch of hypocrites,” Elrich continued.

He rejected arguments that ICE collaboration would make the community safer given that the agency is equally beholden to judicial rules on release.

The Montgomery County Council also rejected criticism of the executive order. In a statement released on Wednesday, the council condemned the White House for “spreading false information seeking to establish a baseless, illogical and xenophobic connection between a person’s failure to obtain legal status and their propensity to commit a sex crime.”

Elrich said the criticism from the White House unnecessarily emphasized crimes by undocumented immigrants while ignoring other perpetrators. The Montgomery County Police Department was unable to immediately provide recent crime statistics, but in 2016 — the most recent data available online — the agency handled 314 reported rapes, an average of roughly 26 per month.

“These are terrible crimes, but they’re perpetrated by people of all stripes,” Elrich said. “So why they’re focusing on these seven cases doesn’t make sense to me. The right likes to pick their concerns. They’re very selective about who they see as a bad guy.”

The executive order didn’t affect operations at the Montgomery County Police Department, where immigration is left to federal agencies, according to Officer Rick Goodale, a county police spokesperson.

“Nothing really changed for us because immigration has always been a federal issue,” Goodale said. “We just don’t deal with it. If someone commits a crime, it doesn’t matter to us how they got in the country. We’re still going to investigate the crime whether they’re here legally or not.”

For some county Republicans, though, the executive order incentivizes more immigrants to move to Montgomery County, increasing the crime rate and straining public resources.

“You’re bringing in bad actors from south of the border who are taking advantage of a system that’s been designed for them to take advantage of,” said Dan McHugh, a member of the Young Republicans and author of the conservative advocacy blog Montgomery County Watch 360. “These friendly policies are encouraging illegal immigrants to move here. They’re piling on more crime.”

Other groups objected to the council’s response to the White House Facebook post. A statement from the Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women called it “outrageously ideological,” especially a section that criticized “disinformation spread by the White House, President Trump … local and national conservative news outlets and neo-Nazi sympathizers.”

“[This] only foments hate and division in the county,” the statement read, “in order to deflect from their failure as our elected officials.”

The Montgomery County Republican Central Committee also issued a statement in which it referred to the council statement as a “political stunt,” designed to “frighten into silence anyone who would speak out.”

The White House was well within its right to criticize Elrich, McHugh added, given the scope of the policy. “In this country, you are supposed to comply with federal law,” he said. “The county executive’s order basically breaks federal law. So, yes, the president has every right to call him out by name.”

Elrich and the council continue to stand behind the executive order.

And for police, ignoring immigration status has a beneficial impact on enforcement, Goodale said.

“We want people to come to us and report crimes without worrying that the might be deported,” he continued. “If they don’t come to us, we can’t investigate those crimes.”

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