President Donald Trump signs a pair of executive orders related to immigration and domestic security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on January 25, the same day John Kelly was sworn in as the department's new chief. One of the orders instructed federal agencies to prepare for construction of a large barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. File Photo by Chip Somodevilla/UPI/Pool | License Photo
March 21 (UPI) -- The White House said Tuesday that a violent rape at a Maryland high school last week -- involving two male teenagers -- is exactly why President Donald Trump is trying to be so tough on illegal immigration.
During his briefing Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer was asked about the rape of a 14-year-old female student Thursday at Rockville High School, located about 15 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. The girl said the male students forced her into a bathroom after she refused to engage in sex.
The accused perpetrators are a 17-year-old boy and 18-year-old Henry Sanchez-Milian, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. It wasn't immediately clear where the second suspect is from, but Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett said there are open federal immigration orders against them both.
In a statement Monday, Leggett said he felt "sick" and "disgusted" by news of the rape and pledged to work with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement in the case -- despite a well-noted county policy that marginally protects undocumented aliens from ICE authorities.
The accused teens will be tried as adults, according to ICE, and a judge has denied bail for both due to what he said is a substantial flight risk.
"This should not happen," Leggett said. "If convicted, these young men need to be severely punished for this heinous act, and I am confident that the justice system will do its job."
Spicer said the case is a microcosm of what Trump is trying to fix with his immigration policies.
"The president recognizes that education is a state-run and a local-run issue, but I think it is cause for concern what happened there," he said. "The city should look at its policies, and I think that this is something authorities are going to have to look at."
Last month, Trump's administration broadened the scope in which the Department of Homeland Security can enforce immigration laws and deport persons in the United States illegally. In January, he signed one executive order to begin construction of a large wall along the U.S.-Mexico border -- and another temporarily suspending U.S. entry for all foreign refugees and certain immigrants in the Middle East and Africa.
During his address to Congress last month, Trump announced the VOICE program -- Victims of Immigration Crimes Engagement -- as a means to treat and heal persons harmed by illegal aliens.
"Part of the reason the president has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this," Spicer added. "Immigration pays its toll on our people if it's not done legally. And this is another example."
Spicer expressed sympathy for the victim and said she was herself a legal immigrant, but it's been reported that the girl is a U.S.-born citizen.
As a general practice, ICE will issue a "detainer" order against undocumented migrants the agency wishes to deport. Some local municipalities, however, have policies that limit cooperation with such orders. Montgomery County, about 35 miles southwest of Baltimore, set a policy in 2014 to comply with detainer orders only if they involve serious crimes or are accompanied by a warrant or federal court order.
The state of Maryland is presently reviewing legislation -- the Maryland Law Enforcement and Trust Act -- to limit cooperation with federal authorities attempting to enforce immigration laws. The proposal originally sought to require jails to screen all inmates for immigration violations, but was later amended to allow screening only if a judge signs off on a warrant.
Supporters of the bill say it's designed to protect the majority of immigrants who are law-abiding citizens, not the few who commit crimes.
"We all should take in consideration the hardworking Maryland residents who are here, have children, have ties to the community and don't have a criminal record, who haven't done anything other than they are waiting for their immigration status to change," he said in a report by The Washington Post.
The bill was passed 83-55 by the Maryland House on Monday and is now in the Senate. Gov. Larry Hogan, though, has already promised a veto.
"Marylanders -- especially parents with children in the school system -- deserve answers about how this happened and what steps are being taken to keep students safe," Hogan wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday, calling on Montgomery County to fully cooperate with ICE.
County officials said their cooperation is already assured, since the rape case meets the policy's criminal requirement.
"If convicted, and after serving their sentences, the County -- consistent with our longstanding policy -- will cooperate fully with ICE to see that the two are deported to their countries of origin," Leggett said. "The County government and the school system will do whatever is necessary to keep your children safe."
"What [Hogan is] feeding into is this Trump energy against immigrants in a manner that I think is totally irresponsible," Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said. "It has inflamed what was already a tinderbox."
"The state of Maryland is not going to become a sanctuary state, but what it does say is that if you are on your way to church, on your way to court, if you are walking down the street, people shouldn't come up to you randomly and ask you what your name is or where you live solely for the purposes of seeking to deport you," Maryland Senate President Thomas Miller said.