Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) announced Friday that a state-run jail in Baltimore will no longer automatically comply with requests from the federal government to hold immigrants beyond their normal release date for possible deportation.
The new policy at the Baltimore City Detention Center is intended to cut the number of immigrants who have no criminal records being deported as part of a program called “Secure Communities.” The jail will now consider the severity of the charges in reviewing requests from the U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement to hold immigrants, the governor said.
“We will focus our efforts on complying with ICE detainers when there is an actual threat to the public’s safety,” O’Malley said in a statement. “No family should be ripped apart because the Republican Congress can’t come to the table and reach a reasonable compromise on comprehensive immigration reform.”
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Friday, O’Malley said the new policy in Baltimore “largely mirrors the current policy in New York City.”
Supporters of the move said several other jurisdictions, including the District, California and Connecticut, have taken similar steps. O’Malley’s announcement only affects the Baltimore jail, which is run by the state, but could encourage a re-evaluation of cooperation with ICE at county-run jails in Maryland.
O’Malley, who is preparing for a possible 2016 presidential bid, noted several other steps taken in recent years to make Maryland what he said was “a more inclusive and open place for all residents.” He mentioned passage of a state-level “Dream Act,” which extends in-state college tuition rates to some undocumented immigrants, and a law that expands the availability driver’s licenses to the same population.
His announcement about the jail’s new policy was praised Friday by the leader of the state’s largest immigrants rights group, while critics said it could make enforcement of existing immigration laws more difficult.
“I remain committed to doing everything possible to protect public safety in Maryland and stand willing to serve as a partner in a more targeted effort to enforce immigration law against serious offenders,” O’Malley said in the letter to Jeh.