By Bruce DePuyt
Activists on both sides of the immigration debate are leaning hard on Maryland lawmakers this week, offering testimony late into the evening Tuesday on measures requiring — and condemning — cooperation between local law enforcement personnel and federal immigration officials.
Dozens of Maryland residents testified before a House panel on a bill that would require local police and corrections personnel to cooperate with federal agents seeking custody of an undocumented person convicted of a crime.
HB 1308 would “keep Maryland communities safe from convicted criminals who may be released and flee to another jurisdiction that may or may not support [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] requests,” said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), sponsor of the measure. “Maryland citizens overwhelmingly support this measure.”
Lawmakers also heard from backers of HB 1461, the Supporting All Families Everywhere Act, which would immunize state and local officials from criminal or civil liability for refusing to provide information to the federal government “for the purpose of discrimination against individuals on the basis of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status or national or ethnic origin.”
That measure is backed by the Latino, African-American and Asian-Pacific Islander caucuses.
Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), chief sponsor of the legislation in the House, said, “This bill would make us exactly like California and Illinois and Oregon, and other states that prefer to follow the law, protect the civil rights of individuals and not let unjustified detainers be served without a judicial warrant.”
Several dozen members of the Maryland Chinese American Network urged lawmakers to reject Gutierrez’s bill.
“As good as it sounds, this bill is a sanctuary bill that intends to shield illegal immigrants,” the group wrote. “[A] sanctuary jurisdiction will not stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from being able to arrest, detain or deport illegal immigrants. In fact, it forces ICE to get more aggressive in its tactics.”
“Given what’s going on in the federal government, it’s really imperative that we make our neighbors feel safe, that they can trust law enforcement,” said Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s, Anne Arundel) at a news conference Wednesday.
She said all people need to be able to “trust taking their kids to school without getting arrested in the parking lot, that they can trust going to go to a hospital and not feel that they’re going to be arrested while getting care, which we have seen in other states.
“We don’t want our local police, who are already overstretched, we don’t want to make them into federal agents,” said Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery), a supporter of HB1461. “We want them to solve crimes. And we want them to work with us in unity.”
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R) spoke in support of HB 1549, which would require officials to fully comply with federal immigration enforcement. The measure would, in effect, ban “sanctuary” communities, cities and counties that refuse to cooperate with the federal agents on some immigration matters.
“This is a very important bill going forward from a public safety aspect,” Jenkins told WTTG Channel 5.
Frederick, Anne Arundel and Harford counties have entered the 287(g) program, a partnership with ICE that trains local law enforcement.
It’s not clear whether any of the bills being debated will reach Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s desk.
A measure similar to the SAFE Act, called the TRUST Act, made it out of the House last year but died in the Senate.
At that time, Hogan (R) said, “I believe that local law enforcement should be cooperating fully with federal law enforcement.” He called efforts to limit cooperation “absurd.”
A legislator, who asked not to be identified and who opposes the measure mandating greater local-federal cooperation, said it was difficult to listen to hours of “hateful” testimony.
The debate in the Maryland House comes as members of Congress remain unable to resolve their differences on immigration, even as the issue continues to dominate national headlines.
President Trump toured border wall prototypes in California this week, and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is threatening legal action against the mayor of Oakland, Calif., over her immigration actions. Sessions criticized Mayor Libby Schaaf last week in remarks to a police group.
Speaking to the California Peace Officers’ Association, Sessions denounced Schaaf. “Here’s my message to Mayor Schaaf: How dare you? How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda?” Sessions said.
Schaaf has been both praised and criticized for warning of federal immigration raids before they occur.