Legislature Passes Immigrants’ Rights Bill; Hogan Veto Expected

Pro-immigration activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Robin Bravender.

Following heated debate, the General Assembly passed major immigrants’ rights legislation Monday night.

Sponsored by Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery), the Dignity Not Detention Act’s original intent was to prohibit Maryland jurisdictions from contracting with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain undocumented people in their local jails. But the bill was amended to include portions of the TRUST Act, which would provide even greater protections for immigrants.

“Thousands of immigrant families celebrate the passage of these major immigrant victories in this Maryland General Assembly,” Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, said in a statement. “Elected leaders understood their responsibility to build trust between the community, law enforcement, and government.”

But its fate is now in the hands of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R), who was publicly lobbying his base to oppose the bill earlier in the day, and told reporters he was in staunch opposition to its passage.

“I would veto any sanctuary bill that passed the legislature today,” Hogan said at a press conference Monday. “Hopefully that won’t happen. But we would definitely veto that.”

Under the bill as passed, in addition to the provisions about ICE contracts, state and local law enforcement officers would be prevented from asking about someone’s immigration or residency status during stops.

“Tonight, Maryland sent a clear message: No one should profit from human misery and family separation,” Stewart tweeted Monday night.

The bill first moved out of the Senate chamber Monday.

Republicans pushed back, saying it stifles economic opportunity for the state’s smaller jurisdictions but preventing them from entering into potentially lucrative contracts with ICE.

But Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) countered, saying that the legislature should be encouraging policy that doesn’t “profit off of imprisoning people with no criminal charge.”

He explained that, for a lot of undocumented people, the U.S. is their home.

“This is the only country they really know,” so to have them plucked from their lives and held in prison while their court process unfolds is “inhumane,” Smith said.

“We should not have a policy in our state — on our books — that incentivizes profiting off that practice.”

The bill passed out of the Senate chamber on a vote of 30-17.

During a brief break in the House floor session late Monday, the House Judiciary Committee held a voting session to determine whether or not the House should concur with the Senate amendments to expand the scope of the bill.

The committee accepted the amendments, expediting the process for it to advance to Hogan’s desk.

The House debate before the bill’s final vote was intense.

Del. Daniel L. Cox (R-Frederick) read off a list of offenses that local law enforcement agencies would not be able to use to pass undocumented people over to ICE after they completed sentences for their crimes.

Cox, who has been a lightning rod for controversy this session following his participation in the rally that ended in a raid on the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, emphasized “terrorist acts” as he read.

Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery), the bill’s floor leader in the House, called Cox’s list a “distraction.”

“Colleagues, I have no idea what we just heard,” Moon said in response to Cox. The chamber laughed.

“This is the nonsense we’ve been listening to for years,” he continued. “A green vote says that Maryland does not balance budgets on family separations.”

Del. Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) defended Cox, imploring colleagues to exercise comity, even if they disagreed on the policy.

“His position is … not laughable. He did the best that he could to articulate his views before the people of this House and this state,” said Buckel. “Now let’s talk about principle, and let’s not impugn each other because of partisan differences.”

Moon was relentless.

“No. The people that have been impugned are my constituents, your neighbors and the immigrants that are being called terrorists and criminals,” he said passionately, his voice getting louder.

House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) stood and called for a point of order, saying that no one was talking about “terrorists,” though Cox had lingered on the idea of terrorism.

The bill passed out of the House chamber on a vote of 86-46.

“We’re sending a clear message to the immigrant community tonight…that the General Assembly cares, and we will not continue to support practices employed by ICE as an agency,” said Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery).

Acevero said that, in his opinion, ICE uses tactics similar to the Gestapo during World War II, which outraged Del. Matthew Morgan (R-St. Mary’s).

“He said they use ‘Gestapo tactics,’” Morgan said, talking over Acevero. “Nothing should be compared to the Nazi regime, and we discussed that last week.”

Morgan was referencing an incident last week in which Cox compared a child mental health bill being debated on the floor to the Holocaust.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) shut Morgan down, offering Acevero the opportunity to speak once more, which he declined.

The debate reached a fever pitch as Del. Brian A Chisholm (R-Anne Arundel) got into a shouting match with Jones over a quiet comment made by his seatmate, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Anne R. Kaiser (D-Montgomery).

Once Chisholm finished explaining his vote, he and Kaiser continued to audibly bicker at their seats.

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