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Judicial Proceedings Committee Begins Debate on Controversial TRUST Act Legislation

Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) sits in front of committee vice chair Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) and fellow committee member Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City). File photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee began debate on a hard-fought piece of immigrants’ rights legislation Tuesday.

The TRUST Act would provide protections for Maryland’s undocumented residents and limit the ability of state and local government to share data with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other federal agencies.

The bill was introduced in previous sessions and usually died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) went so far as to call it “the infamous sanctuary bill.”

But with Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), who is the bill’s sponsor, guiding it through that committee, the bill’s chance of advancing to a floor vote may have improved.

Committee members debated the first half of the bill Tuesday, including measures to:

  • Provide immunity and indemnification for state and local government employees for refusing to provide federal agencies data that would be used in a registry to discriminate against people on the basis of immutable traits, including race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status and national or ethnic origin; And
  • Prohibit police officers from asking about a person’s citizenship or immigration status during a stop, search or arrest, and to prohibit police from prolonging a person’s detainment to investigate the person’s status or to transfer the person to federal agencies, unless required by federal law.

Hough said his main issue with the bill is that it would allow people to ignore federal detainers.

He said he was unaware of the Department of Homeland Security’s detainer issuance policy under the Biden administration, but he cited reasons why they were issued under President Obama, including:

  • Suspected espionage or terrorism;
  • Participation in a street gang;
  • Conviction on a federal or aggravated felony charge; And
  • Conviction on a “significant” misdemeanor charge.

“These are all serious offenses: terrorism, street gangs, human trafficking — this is all bad stuff,” Hough argued. “They issue that detainer and … this bill would prohibit a law enforcement agency from transferring individuals to federal immigration authorities, detaining an individual, notifying federal immigration authorities of an individual’s release date, location or address, or use law enforcement resources to further civil immigration enforcement without a federal judicial warrant.”

Smith said that the “crux of the bill” handles civil aspects of immigration enforcement, so “nothing would prevent the state or local [jurisdictions] from cooperating with any sort of underlying criminal investigation or criminal records.”

“We obviously want to capture the folks that are dangerous, but what we don’t want to do is ensnare the other 99.9%,” he said.

Sen. Robert G. Cassilly (R-Harford) said he believes the United States has “challenges,” but maintained that “our country is the most fair and open, law-abiding country, that the world has ever known and … that we’re the land of opportunity.”

Cassilly pivoted the conversation to the serial killing of Asian women in Atlanta last week, saying that while we “took that as a national tragedy … every Asian woman, pretty much, in America has more rights, more freedoms, than a billion, or half a billion whatever Asian women do in China.”

“So, we have challenges,” he continued, but “we have to also be careful that, in our zeal to be fair to everyone … we don’t do serious damage to the basic legal structure of our society.”

Smith agreed with Cassilly that the United States is “the most open, broad, Democratic government on the face of the earth,” but added that the premise of the bill is to ensure that the “robust” immigrant population that is currently here feels comfortable “interacting with law enforcement” and engaging with state government “without fear of targeting and abusive treatment based on their status.”

Smith paused the debate after an hour, telling committee members that they would resume deliberations on the TRUST Act on Wednesday.

In the meantime, several other pieces of legislation to alter the state’s relationship with ICE were approved by the House before Monday’s crossover deadline and there has been movement to detach from the federal agency at a local level, too.

Howard County Executive Calvin D. Ball (D) announced Tuesday that the county Department of Corrections will  end its contract with ICE in May, then will stop detaining people held for immigration issues in its facilities.

“CASA members who have been held in detention know too well the inhumanity of our immigration system,” Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA, said, responding to the announcement. “Every day, immigrants are contributing enormously to the beautiful Howard County community. We thank County Executive Calvin Ball for recognizing that contribution and eliminating the contract with ICE.”

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Judicial Proceedings Committee Begins Debate on Controversial TRUST Act Legislation