Though the legislation may be largely symbolic, members of the Montgomery County Council are expected to take a stand Tuesday in favor of county residents who under the Trump administration could lose the deportation protections they have enjoyed for years.
The administration has indicated that it will end temporary protected status (TPS) for some immigrants who fled war or natural disaster to find a haven in the United States. The administration also plans to end the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children to legally remain in the United States. Both groups could face deportation if their status is revoked.
The all-Democratic council is expected to unanimously pass a resolution to urge the federal government to allow the immigrants — thousands of whom live in Montgomery County — to remain in the country.
Although the resolution carries no legal authority, lawmakers and activists say it is an important symbolic step for the state's most populous jurisdiction and one of its most diverse.
"Without question, there is strong support for immigrant reform that provides a path to citizenship, that lifts the threat of deportation from these families in our community," said council President Hans Riemer (D-At Large), who was arrested last week alongside 200 others demanding that Congress enact legislation to grant DACA recipients permanent citizenship. "It's important in times like these for the community to take a stand, and that's what we're trying to do with this resolution."
There are more than 325,000 immigrants with temporary protected status across the country and Maryland is home to the second-largest share, according to the resolution. Those include about 19,800 Salvadorans with 17,100 U.S.-born children, as well as 1,900 Hondurans with more than 1,300 U.S.-born children. The program protects them from deportation and allows them to work legally in the United States. Those protections have to be renewed by the federal government every two years.
DACA has allowed about 690,000 immigrants — including more than 9,700 in Maryland — brought to the United States as children to be shielded from deportation and receive two-year renewal work permits.
Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, said that even though the council doesn't have the power to change federal policy, the resolution is a way of supporting residents who "are very scared about what's going to happen."
Torres said several DACA and TPS holders have established businesses in the county and have set down roots, and are anxiously awaiting a solution from Congress before their protections expire.
"The message from the county is saying: You are welcome. You are making a contribution, and we are with you," Torres said.
Montgomery is a liberal stronghold where legislators and activists have long been supportive of undocumented immigrants.
Yet there is an undercurrent of anti-immigrant sentiment. One of the starkest examples is Help Save Maryland, a Rockville-based organization that describes itself as "dedicated to preserving Maryland's counties, cities and towns from the negative effects of illegal aliens."
Some critics also say the council is wasting energy on issues beyond its control. Mark Uncapher, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee, said the council could better serve the county by focusing attention on local issues such as finding a solution to the county's budget shortfall.
"I'm not sure how helpful or useful the council's resolution is since that's really a compromise that is going to need to be worked out at the congressional level," Uncapher said.
Work permits for DACA recipients will expire starting March 5. Members of both the House and Senate are still divided over the details behind a solution, including whether to include stricter border protection. Last week, 35 members of the House GOP caucus urged a consensus by the end of the year.
"There are thousands of people who live in Montgomery County who are able to work without fear, to live without fear of deportation, thanks to DACA and TPS," Riemer said. "Unfortunately, this administration has put a cloud over their future."