A Maryland bill to limit police cooperation with federal immigration authorities, criticized this week by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will not pass the state Senate unless it is revised, the head of that chamber said Wednesday.
The Trust Act, as the legislation is known, would prohibit local and state police from assisting with federal immigration-enforcement efforts by stopping or questioning individuals about their country of origin or immigration status. It would also bar most Maryland jurisdictions from detaining undocumented prisoners past their release date, unless federal agents who want to deport them have a warrant or court order describing probable cause.
The House passed the legislation last week. But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which is deciding whether to advance the measure, will not approve it in its current form.
“Maryland is not going to become a sanctuary state,” Miller told reporters, using a loosely defined term for a jurisdiction that in some way limits cooperation between local and federal authorities on immigration issues. The Trump administration has said it will withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, but it has not clearly defined what rules would have to be in place for a jurisdiction to qualify for such a sanction.
“Our churches are not sanctuaries, our colleges are not sanctuaries, our cities are not sanctuaries, and our state is not going to become a sanctuary state,” Miller said. “I haven’t lobbied anybody in the committee, but I definitely will tell you the committee is not going to vote to allow Maryland to become a sanctuary state.”
Miller’s comments come just over a week after the reported rape of a Rockville High School student, allegedly by two students who are undocumented immigrants. The case has become embroiled in the national debate over immigration policy; when asked about it last week, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the incident shows why it is important for local police to assist federal authorities with immigration enforcement.
Proponents of the Trust Act have dismissed such comments about the bill, saying that nothing in it would preclude federal-local cooperation in connection with that type of serious crime.
Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery), who co-sponsored the Trust Act and defended it during floor debates, said this week that the legislation “certainly does not make Maryland more at risk for crime and violence” and that “anyone who commits a crime or violence in Maryland should be and is prosecuted to the full extent of the law, regardless of immigration status.”
The measure would allow Frederick and Harford counties to continue their participation in a special federal program that uses local police to help with immigration enforcement.
Advocates say the legislation would protect undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to communities and ensure that they can report crimes to police without fear of deportation.
Miller expressed sympathy with that point of view but also echoed some of the concerns raised by Trump officials about whether the legislation would hinder law enforcement efforts.
“I want our citizens to be free to walk the streets of our state without getting questions in terms of where they’re from. I want them to be able to go to church. I want them to be able to go to school. I want them to be able to report crimes without fear of being arrested,” he said. “But in terms of hampering law enforcement, in terms of hampering the judicial system, Maryland is not going to become a sanctuary state.”
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has vowed to veto the Trust Act if it reaches his desk, describing the measure as “an outrageously irresponsible bill” that would “endanger our citizens.”
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll this month found that 71 percent of Marylanders say immigration enforcement should be left to federal authorities, while 25 percent say local police should take an active role in such matters.
Seventy-five percent of respondents said people in the country illegally would be reluctant to inform police of crimes if local law enforcement became more active in identifying individuals for deportation.
The poll was conducted March 16 to 19 among a random sample of 914 Maryland residents and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.