WASHINGTON - Montgomery County officials are defending their move to hire an attorney who used to be the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the Obama administration.
Leon Rodriguez has helped craft and enact immigration policies that President Donald Trump and his administration have been highly critical of. Now, he is going to work with Montgomery County to advise them on immigration law.
While supporters of this move say it is an effort to bring in an immigration law expert, others say it is a clear preemptive legal strike by a county that is already embattled over its immigration policy and at odds with the Trump administration.
The advice will not be cheap. Rodriguez will be earning $575 an hour, according to the documents uncovered by the Immigration Reform Law Institute.
Why does Montgomery County need him? With the county now on a list of jurisdictions refusing federal detainer requests, Immigration Reform Law Institute investigative associate Ian Smith said the move to bring on Rodriguez means county taxpayers will be on the hook to pay up for the county to lawyer up against the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.
"If you want to find a special counsel to help you, your state or local government to fight federal immigration law, this is the guy you want for sure,” said Smith. “He was one of Obama's top immigration officials, preceded over some of the most extreme anti-borders measures that were put in place over the last four to five years.”
Rodriguez joined a private law firm back on Feb. 8 that has a large immigration legal practice. He has also worked as a board member of the pro-immigration group CASA de Maryland. Critics say that connection raises eyebrows because the group supports the "sanctuary state" bill going before the Maryland’s General Assembly.
FOX 5 reached out directly to both Rodriquez and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, but have not received a response from either of them as of Tuesday evening.
At a council hearing on Tuesday, Montgomery County council members were quick to defend the hiring of Rodriquez and said the special counsel with the big price tag will be an asset as the county shapes its policy on immigration matters.
"He's an attorney who used to work in the county and he worked in the Obama administration at one point and he is just looking at some of the interface between us and the federal government around the immigration issue," said Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich.
“We had a very unfortunate tragic incident at Rockville, but the reality is that folks have been very happy with the way things have been and I think they need to stay that way,” said Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice.
Officially, Rodriguez's role will be to provide "consulting services regarding immigration matters." His hiring appears to have taken place on March 8, which is over a week before two Rockville High School students were arrested and charged with the rape of a 14-year-old freshman girl inside a school bathroom.
Those suspects both have ICE detainers placed on them and federal officials have confirmed that they entered the United States illegally.