The clock is ticking on the Maryland General Assembly’s 2021 session and all eyes in the state’s immigrant community are fixed on Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William Smith and Senate President Bill Ferguson, who failed to move a bill to the House before Crossover Day that would protect undocumented immigrants from deportation and family separations.
Crossover Day was Monday, March 22, the deadline in the 90-day session to move a bill passed in one chamber to the other without facing additional procedural hurdles that are required when the deadline is missed.
Smith was the lead sponsor of the bill and Ferguson promoted it at the beginning of the session.
If passed the Trust Act would prohibit profiling and inquiries of an individual’s immigration status during routine interactions with state and local law enforcement agencies. It would also put an end to the state’s participation in ICE’s 287g program, which exists to round up and detain undocumented immigrants.
The ACLU of Maryland and CASA, the largest immigrant advocacy group in the state, are concerned about the fate of the bill with only three weeks left in the session that must legally expires at midnight on April 12. And the concern is heightened because the Trust Act has been introduced in some form or another over the last nine years. Failure to pass the bill has become routine.
“CASA has been advocating for the Trust Act for nearly a decade,” said Cathryn Paul, the research and policy analyst for the advocacy group. “This bill has been the top priority every year for our members; we have over 100,000 members whose lives depend on this bill passing this year.”
Paul said passage of the 2017 version of the bill would have prevented the deportation of a mother of three in 2019 when her car broke down near Baltimore. Instead of getting help from a Maryland State Trooper she was deported to El Salvador. She had been living in Maryland for 18 years at the time of her deportation.
“If that bill had passed in 2017, Nora would still be here; she would not have been deported and she would not have been separated from her kids,” Paul said in an interview with the Kent Pilot.
“The fact that we have someone testifying from El Salvador just illustrates how much the General Assembly has failed immigrants for so long,” Paul said. “If General Assembly cannot move forward and pass the Trust Act and other critical immigration reform bills there will be a lot of people to blame.”
Paul took aim at Senate President Bill Ferguson, who represents the same district where Argueta lived and was raising her three kids.
“They live in the President Ferguson’s district and Nora and her kids were his constituents,” she said. “President Ferguson has failed his constituents by not moving forward with this bill.”
“President Ferguson has the power to use his leadership to make transformational change in the lives of immigrants,” she said. “The Trust Act is the number-one priority of immigrant families right now.”
The bill also has the support of Maryland Attorney Brian Frosh, the Latino, Asian and Black caucuses and 130 member organizations that recently signed on to a letter to Ferguson to move the Trust Act in this session.
Joe Spielberger, public policy counsel for the ACLU of Maryland, said the House version of the bill is a result of Ferguson and Smith “often trying to pass the buck back and forth between themselves to avoid being personally accountable.”
There has been squabbling between the two judiciary committees over which should go first on the bill.
“Ferguson told advocates last year that he needed a veto proof majority and we got it done,” he said. “From our position we’ve given them everything they need to get this done, so I don’t know what more we can do.”
“We whipped the votes and there were clearly enough votes to move forward,” he said. “It was supposed to be voted out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee over a week ago and it kept getting delayed.”
“Senate President Ferguson is standing in the way,” Spielberger said. “If he wanted to prioritize this bill and get it passed he obviously could. If it was a priority from him this bill wouldn’t have languished in committee [past crossover day].”
Spielberger said it would be a catastrophe for Maryland’s immigrant community if for tenth try the legislature failed to act.
“Failure to pass this bill now will lead to another year of immigrants living in terror of driving their children to school, obtaining medical treatment during a pandemic, providing for their families, and reporting crimes, because at any moment, simply interacting with a police officer could lead to permanent separation,” he said. “Leadership has no excuse to not pass this bill now, to keep those families safe who call Maryland home.”
“What does it mean for real public safety, when communities are afraid to report crimes, because to them, police are the bigger threat?”
Attempts by the Kent Pilot to contact Smith about the Trust Act went unanswered.