Still via Facebook/Baltimore Police Department

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis responded this week to the U.S. Justice Department’s requests to modify local immigration-detention policies with a basic fact: the State of Maryland runs the city’s jail, not the city government.

Federal attorneys wrote to Davis earlier this month, weighing the inclusion of Baltimore in a national crime-fighting partnership plan over the city’s head, depending on whether police would change their detention policies for undocumented immigrants. The crux of the DOJ’s Aug. 3 letter was that if Baltimore wants federal help with fighting its growing tide of violent crime, the city will need to start detaining undocumented immigrants – with or without a warrant – for federal immigration agents.

The Justice Department laid out its argument in a series of questions: Does Baltimore allow federal immigration agents to come into city jails? Does the city give agents at least two days’ notice before an undocumented inmate is released so they can come and detain him? Does the city hold immigrants for agents for up to two days beyond when they’re supposed to be released?

Davis responded in a letter dated Monday, Aug. 14, with a simple response: “We are unable to provide an answer to any of these questions because the correctional and detention facilities are not under our control.”

The State of Maryland has operated Baltimore’s city jail since 1991.

But there was more to Davis’ letter. The DOJ implied in its initial query that the city could get some help fighting crime if it agrees to do all of the above.

Davis wrote that such a contingency is “concerning.”

For one, he said, “it is perplexing…to make that assistance contingent upon policies and practices surrounding something that is not under our control.”

There’s also a trust problem, according to Davis. Agreeing to hold immigrants without warrants or change other policies for the purpose of getting money “sends the wrong message to our immigrant communities,” he said. “Without [their] trust, immigrants may be less likely to communicate with the police, report crimes, or seek assistance upon becoming a victim.”

“I fear the conditions seemingly being imposed through your letter is [sic.] a step in the wrong direction,” he concluded.

The Trump administration’s Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has continued Obama-era policies of deporting immigrants. In the first five months of this year, agents deported more than 84,000 people from the country, Politico reports.

In a speech today, Sessions targeted so-called sanctuary policies protecting undocumented immigrants as harmful to the country, equating them to “lawlessness.”

Baltimore, while not in control of its jail, also approaches immigration policing differently than Sessions would like. As Davis said in an earlier statement responding to the DOJ’s Aug. 3 letter, city police don’t enforce federal immigration laws and don’t ask residents about their immigration status.

The federal government’s attorneys likely won’t appreciate Davis’ response letter, unless they place a high premium on honesty.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the state has operated Baltimore’s city jail since 1991, rather than its entire prison system.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...