A federal program to crack down on illegal immigration that Montgomery County officials fought against is scheduled to begin in the county on Wednesday.
Under Secure Communities, the fingerprints of everyone arrested and charged with a crime in the county will be sent to the FBI, and the FBI will send the data to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to determine if they should be deported, according to an ICE spokeswoman.
Montgomery County and Baltimore City, which also will begin enforcement Wednesday, are the only jurisdictions in Maryland not using Secure Communities. As of last week, 2,274 jurisdictions in 45 states were using the program, resulting in the deportation of more than 119,900 immigrants by Dec. 31.
ICE officials hope to implement the system nationwide by next year.
Montgomery officials say complying will not require any additional work.
The county police currently report to ICE all people who commit violent crimes, said Capt. Terry Pierce, director of the police's Policy and Planning Division.
The Department of Correction and Rehabilitation sends ICE a fax every Monday with the names of all inmates who say they are foreign born and sends the FBI the fingerprints of every person arrested, a practice shared by every jurisdiction in the country, said department Director Art Wallenstein.
Although the county plans to comply with ICE, County Executive Ike Leggett is still not happy about participating in a system that he contemplated challenging in court less than a year ago.
"You make communities sometimes less secure," he said, expressing concerns that immigrants will not report crimes if they are afraid of being arrested after a traffic violation.
Henry Montes, co-chairman of the county's volunteer Latin American Advisory Group, shared Leggett's concerns.
"It's another harassment tool to be used against folks who are trying to make a living," he said. "If we're going to implement Secure Communities, let's do it with regard to the most dangerous elements of our society."
But those fears are unjustified, said Janice Kephart, national security policy director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors tightened immigration laws.
"You're cleaning out from the immigrant population those who are most horrible," she said. "That is a benefit to everyone."