Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) announced a policy change Friday that he said would allow the county’s detention center to only house Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees convicted of violent crimes, as specified by Maryland Code.
“We believe that our policy clarification will preserve the public safety by ensuring that the contract between ICE and the detention center in Howard County only applies to the most serious offenders,” Ball said.
The changes to the 25-year-old contract — which has allowed ICE to house immigrants facing deportation at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup — follow a summer rife with protests against the policy.
Immigrants’ rights groups like CASA and the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice staged a protest against the contract outside Ellicott City’s George Howard Building in June.
That demonstration was followed by a march featuring hundreds of protesters in July, and as recently as Tuesday, activists appeared at Ball’s morning news conference to rail against the agreement, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Ball’s proposal also follows the Sept. 8 introduction of County Council legislation that would cancel the contract outright. Democratic Councilwoman Liz Walsh’s bill, CB51-2020, would entirely prohibit Howard County’s Department of Corrections from housing ICE detainees.
Ball said that his administration had been in continued talks with CASA to renegotiate the contract for over a year, and that Walsh’s bill was “introduced despite my administration’s collaboration and finalization of these new policy changes with CASA… I would urge the council to consider our negotiated policy instead of moving forward with this legislation.”
He said his administration was committed to fair treatment for all members of the community, and remained open to dialogue with groups working toward greater diversity and inclusion in the county.
The County Council legislation is scheduled for a public hearing on Monday. Walsh could not immediately be reached for comment, but she told The Howard County Times Friday that she does not plan to withdraw her legislation.
CASA’s executive director, Gustavo Torres, lauded the administration’s move, and said he was confident that the modification would resolve some of the problems that existed under the contract’s previous terms.
“What the county executive is doing today is to tell all of us— that everybody, regardless of immigration status — [is] welcome here,” Torres said. “We don’t want criminals… we want people who are making a contribution to the county.”
Torres pointed out that other jurisdictions in Maryland had already adopted similar measures, and urged the County Council and entire community to continue working toward greater inclusion for immigrants.
CASA member Laura Arroyo — a Howard County resident whose husband was deported under the previous ICE policy — said the policy announcement marked a very important day for Howard County.
“Today is the day Howard County says goodbye to ICE and officially welcomes us immigrants to Howard County,” she said in Spanish with an English interpreter. Arroyo said that if Ball’s order had been in place earlier, it may have prevented her husband’s deportation from Jessup.
“He was deported for re-entry, not a violent crime,” Arroyo explained. “He’s an exemplary father who never allowed our three children to lack their basic necessities. Day-to-day life has been very hard for me… I don’t want any other family to go through what we’re going through.”
According to Arroyo, the policy change would reassure her and the immigrant community that their families would not be separated or deported when interacting with local authorities.
“This order is a great accomplishment because no other child will undergo the trauma that mine have suffered through,” she said.
Horus Alas is freelance reporter and digital designer who graduated from the University of Maryland’s master’s program in journalism in December 2019. He has edited web content for NASA’s Glenn Research Center and reported for the Baltimore Brew, Capital News Service and The Diamondback. He can be reached at [email protected]