By Eric M. Johnson
(Reuters) - Activists in Maryland held protests on Thursday over a decision by Governor Larry Hogan to notify U.S. immigration officials when an undocumented immigrant is to be released from a state-run Baltimore detention center.
Demonstrators linked with advocacy group CASA de Maryland circled the Republican governor's mansion on Thursday, many carrying signs and chanting "we are in the fight," local media footage showed.
The demonstrators were angered over a 2014 program that, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allows federal authorities to take custody of convicted criminals who pose a danger to public safety before they are released from local jails.
"Larry Hogan's voluntary collaboration will lead to the deportation of parents, siblings, and neighbors while shredding community trust," the group said in a statement.
"As jails garner the reputation as locations around which ICE agents wait for release, family members will be too frightened to visit or retrieve their loved ones," the group said.
In a statement, Hogan's office recommended that activists direct their concerns to the White House.
"The Baltimore City Detention Center is simply complying with a request from the Obama administration in regard to individuals who have already been detained," the statement said.
Advocates said the decision, made shortly after Hogan took office in January, was a departure from the policy of his Democratic predecessor, Martin O'Malley, the Washington Post reported.
The issue has attracted national attention, fueled by the death in San Francisco of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle, who prosecutors say was shot by a convicted felon who had been deported from the United States to Mexico five times.
San Francisco is a so-called sanctuary city whose police refrain from routinely checking immigration status of people who have been detained and sharing that information with federal authorities, who would act to deport them.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted last month to deny funding to "sanctuary" cities that do not report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities, setting off outcry from the White House and immigration advocates.
The Baltimore Sun newspaper reported that Baltimore has been considered a "sanctuary city" since a 2012 executive order by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake barred police and other city employees from questioning a resident's immigration status.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Eric Beech)