Immigration reform legislation that seemed doomed in the final days of the Maryland General Assembly was resurrected and passed by a veto-proof majority in both chambers just hours before the close of the 90-day session.
The “Dignity Not Detention Act” passed, prohibiting Maryland jurisdictions from entering into contracts with ICE to detain undocumented citizens in local jails. The legislation further mandates local governments to let current ICE contracts expire and prohibits county governments from entering into agreements with private prison companies contracted by the agency to hold detainees.
Frederick, Howard, and Worcester counties currently have contracts with ICE that will expire under the new law.
The three counties have enjoyed a windfall from detention center agreements over the last decade and together receive nearly $10 million in federal payments annually to house immigrant detainees. Worcester alone receives $5.2 million, which represents over half of the county’s $10 million detention center budget. Frederick County receives $1 million and Howard County receives $2.9 million.
Immigrant advocacy groups say the ICE agreements have incentivized the rounding up of law-abiding immigrants for profit and has subjected detainees to deplorable conditions and family separations for many years.
The bill also bolstered protections for immigrants against detention and deportation by borrowing provisions from the Trust Act, which did not pass this session.
Two provisions prohibit law enforcement from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status during normal interactions such as traffic stop and accidents — or detaining immigrants for the purposes of transferring to ICE.
The law further prohibits correctional facilities from detaining immigrants and transferring them to ICE unless the individual has pending criminal charges or a conviction of a crime of violence.
The Driver Privacy Act also passed on the final day of the session and prohibits government agencies and law enforcement from providing records or data to ICE for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws.
“These bills move us towards a future where immigrants can drive the roads safely, without worrying about ICE digging around their personal records without a warrant,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group. “Immigrants will soon live in a state that does not profit off of the incarceration of families. A new level of trust in law enforcement will soon be restored upon the bill’s enactment.”
Clockwise from bottom left: State Sen. Steve Hershey and Dels. Jeff Ghrist, Jay Jacobs and Steve Arentz
All members of the Maryland 36th Delegation which includes Kent, Cecil, Caroline and Queen Anne’s counties voted against passage of the bill.
Gov. Larry Hogan is expected to veto the bills, which will set up an override at the start of the 2022 session.
The bill was inspired in part by the town of Sudlersville’s vote last year to rezone town property to accommodate a detention center for Immigration Centers of America – in an attempt to mitigate the town’s staggering debt. The plan met opposition from the community and ICA eventually pulled out claiming “federal funding issues.”