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Fierce debate over sanctuary cities surrounding the District

Fierce debate ensues over sanctuary cities surrounding the District of Columbia. (ABC7)

Immigration is a hot topic right now, and that includes a fierce debate over sanctuary cities. Some local governments do not fully cooperate with immigration officials when they find an illegal immigrant who has a federal warrant. And that includes a few localities around the nation's capital.

For 15 years, Enriqueta Juarez has lived in D.C. She has two kids, a driver's license and a job cleaning hotel rooms. She's also here illegally.

"It's a risk to come here," said Juarez. "But we took it because of the quality of life we would give to our children."

But Juarez's risk is lessened by living in the nation's capital, where she admits it's better to live illegally that in Mexico legally. In D.C., Juarez's immigration status will never be checked by the District, even if she commits a serious crime. And if the Feds want to deport her, D.C. will not cooperate.

"That's what this is, its failure to cooperate," said Mary Cheh, a D.C. Councilwoman for Ward 3.

Washington is considered a sanctuary city. It does not honor Federal civil or deportation warrants - only Federal criminal warrants. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh says it's about trust.

"All of this is designed so that people are not afraid to come forward," said Cheh. "We want people to come forward as victims and as witnesses."

"Everything. She meant everything," sobbed Sherman Owens, of Upper Marlboro.

Kim and Sherman Owens strongly disagree with policies like D.C.'s.

"There's no replacing her," added Kim.

In 2011, the Owen's daughter, Jasmine, was killed by drunk driver Jose Salmoran, of Anne Arundel County. The I-team learned the illegal immigrant, from Mexico, since 2001, had 23 traffic and misdemeanor convictions, one of which for driving 112 mph in a 65 mph zone, but he was not deported.

"If he had been arrested and deported at that time, we wouldn't be sitting here sharing our daughter's story," added Kim.

"I feel let down by the system," stated Sherman.

"I believe we're making the community safer," said Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, who runs his county differently. Unlike D.C., his department fully cooperates with the Feds, and has trained immigration deputies in his jail. He says it's his duty.

"My job is to protect the people of Frederick County and immigration enforcement is a large piece of public safety and national security," said Jenkins.

During this investigation, we learned every D.C. Metro jurisdiction cooperates with criminal warrants issued by ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But, Washington, D.C., Charles County, Montgomery County, Alexandria and Prince William County do not cooperative with civil or deportation warrants. So, if someone with a civil warrant is discovered by local authorities, ICE will not be contacted and that person, let go, which makes these sanctuaries.

John Torres is the former director of ICE. He retired in 2013, after 27 years.

"In those areas where you have law enforcement not talking to each other, I think you inherently make the community less safe," concluded Torres.

Jose Salmoran, the man who killed Jasmine Owens, served one year in jail. He's now out and is still in the country. This month, he was ordered deported by an immigration court. But he appealed.

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