Frustrated by a growing number of foreign-born inmates in his detention center with no way of knowing who they were, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler teamed with ICE to deport undocumented lawbreakers, and last November, he announced in its first year, the program had turned up more than a hundred illegal immigrants, including nearly four dozen violent offenders whose crimes ranged from assault and armed robbery to murder.
"Four of those 44, which is 10 percent of that number, have shown themselves as MS-13 members,” Gahler said at the time, “So, they're not the only four in the county. We realize that, but these are four who hopefully we're not going to open the door and say, 'Welcome back to Harford County when you've finished your sentence for what you were arrested for.’"
But for the ACLU of Maryland, the so-called success story was incomplete.
Attorney Nick Steiner says the ACLU wants to know about the 60 or so non-violent offenders that got sent packing.
"They cherry-picked certain statistics,” said Steiner, “Some of the things we're asking for are not just names, but we're asking for demographic information like what is the race and ethnicity of the person? What were they arrested for?"
When the sheriff referred them to ICE and federal immigration officials balked at providing much of the information citing privacy and national security issues, the ACLU decided to file a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, but it readily admits its ultimate goal.
"It's a broader attack on the 287(g) program, itself, which basically encourages racial profiling and doesn't actually make the community safer," said Steiner.
Sheriff Gahler was unavailable for comment today, but he's made it clear in the past that the program would not target people who are simply in the country illegally.
Through the lawsuit, the ACLU wants proof that is still the case in Harford County.