Howard County will enter the national debate over immigration enforcement in the coming weeks as elected officials square off over a proposal to designate the wealthy suburb between the District and Baltimore a sanctuary jurisdiction for undocumented immigrants.
Legislation introduced by two County Council members, both Democrats, would codify existing county practices addressing the gathering of information about citizenship status and when to cooperate with federal law enforcement.
County Executive Allan Kittleman (R) announced Thursday that he will veto the measure if it passes, calling it a “hollow political statement.”
Kittleman said that while the bill would break no new ground, it could jeopardize certain federal funding under President-elect Donald Trump and complicate the county’s collaboration with federal authorities in other areas, such as human trafficking and pornography.
“This is a solution in search of a problem,” Kittleman said in an interview Friday. “We don’t have an issue.” Since the bill was filed, he said, his office has received 120 emails and phone calls about it, with five of them in support of the legislation.
A public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 17 in Ellicott City. A council vote could come as early as Feb. 6.
Trump promised during his campaign to withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions.
There is no exact definition of such a jurisdiction, and localities vary widely in their approach. As many as 400 cities and counties, including Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and the District, place some limits on cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Montgomery, for example, will confirm whether an undocumented immigrant is in custody and that individual’s release date. But it will not honor ICE “detainers” — requests to hold a prisoner past the release date — without a warrant or federal court order. The Maryland Attorney General’s Office warned in 2014 that localities could be liable for damages by detaining prisoners beyond release dates without probable cause.
Kittleman said Friday that Howard has largely the same policy as Montgomery and sees no need to put it into law.
Council member Jen Terrasa (D), who co-sponsored the bill with council member Calvin Ball (D), said they wanted to reassure county residents alarmed by statements from Trump about dramatically increasing deportation of undocumented immigrants. Even legal immigrants in Howard, she said, are anxious about the political environment.
Part of the reason to place the policies into county law, she said, is to protect the policies from being abandoned or reversed without transparency. “If there are changes, there would be a public hearing, a public process and a vote,” she said.
The five-member council has four Democrats and one Republican. Terrasa said she was not sure whether the other two Democrats would support the measure. If they did, the four-vote majority would be veto-proof.
Maryland is home to about 250,000 undocumented immigrants, according to U.S. census data, more than Virginia or the District. There were no figures immediately available about Howard County’s undocumented population. Overall, 19 percent of the county’s 313,000 residents are foreign-born.