IMMIGRATION • BY JAMIE FORZATO, CNS
Florinda Lorenzo-Desimilian was a stay-at-home mom in Prince George’s County. She was in need of extra income so she started selling phone cards from her home, until she was caught in a police sting and arrested.
She was charged with operating a business without a license. Lorenzo-Desimilian, an undocumented resident, was jailed for three days but, “charges against me were dropped. But I still have a deportation order,” she says.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was informed of her immigration status and now Lorenzo-Desimilian and her three children, now Montgomery County residents, are scheduled to be deported this August. The deportation order was triggered by a program called Secure Communities which streamlines the process of identifying and deporting undocumented residents.
Montgomery County was the last county in Maryland to adopt the new program. Law enforcement officers say they are not involved in the deportation orders; if a suspect is arrested, the fingerprints are automatically sent to ICE and the FBI.
“We don’t want to be in the immigration police business. I don’t want to be asking people about their immigration status. That’s exactly what this program does. We arrest people as we normally would. We don’t have to do a thing differently than we’ve always done,” Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said on WTOP’s Ask the Chief program on Feb. 22.
In a letter to Governor Martin O’Malley, a number of organizations including the ACLU of Maryland urged state lawmakers to reexamine the program. Among their concerns, the fact that the fingerprints of anyone arrested is checked against a federal immigration database, regardless of whether or not a suspect has been convicted of a crime. They also argue Secure Communities will make victims more hesitant about contacting police because “immigrants… are significantly less likely to reach out to authorities to report a crime.”
But Manger says the only residents that are affected are those who are arrested for criminal activity. “The Montgomery County police do not ask people about their immigration status. If you’re the victim of a crime, you should have no concern whatsoever about calling the police and reporting a crime,” Manger said on WTOP’s Ask the Chief program.
But that doesn’t allay some residents’ fears.
“We are not criminals. We are hardworking people,” Lorenzo-Desimilian said.