THE POLITICAL turmoil and outrage attending a bill that would limit the cooperation granted to federal immigration authorities by state and local officials in Maryland are disconnected from the effect of the latest, watered-down provisions that actually appear in the legislation. So are accusations by immigration restrictionists that the bill would transform Maryland into a “sanctuary state,” whatever that means.
No doubt, the intent of the sponsors of the measure, known as the Maryland Law Enforcement and Trust Act, was to sharply curtail many kinds of assistance rendered to federal immigration authorities by state and local officials in police departments, sheriff’s departments and penal facilities. As the bill has emerged from the Democrat-dominated House of Delegates in Annapolis, however, its real-world impact would be modest at best, and certainly nothing to justify the huffing and puffing from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who said it “will make Maryland a sanctuary state and endanger our citizens.”
Please. A coolheaded analysis of what the bill does and does not do hardly justifies Mr. Hogan’s fulminations, nor his vow to veto it “the moment it reaches my desk.”
The words “sanctuary city” (or county) have no legal or clear-cut definition; they are political darts thrown for the purpose of suggesting a locality is soft on illegal immigration. In fact, hundreds of cities and counties around the country have detailed and nuanced rules that determine the circumstances under which they do or don’t share with the feds certain information regarding undocumented immigrants. Some of the policies are measured and sensible; others, such as those adopted in San Francisco, are not.
The policies as now described in the bill that cleared the House in Annapolis, by a largely party-line vote of 83-55, are in the former category.
Mr. Hogan is exercised that the bill would prohibit most localities from holding undocumented immigrants in jail for 48 hours after their scheduled release date at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, so they can be transferred directly to federal custody. But nothing in the amended legislation would bar those localities from informing ICE of release dates so that federal officials could detain inmates when they walk out of jail.
Similarly, the bill requires localities to comply with any warrant to hold undocumented immigrants issued by federal courts on the basis of probable cause. Such a warrant would be easily obtainable by ICE in the case of prisoners who pose a danger to public safety or national security. Despite Mr. Hogan’s assertions, nothing in the bill blocks local officials from sharing information with federal authorities about an undocumented immigrant’s criminal record or responding to subpoenas. And jurisdictions that have decided to cooperate even more closely with the feds, including Frederick, Harford and Anne Arundel counties, could continue doing so.
The bill strikes a symbolic blow against the Trump administration by pledging the state’s refusal to help compile a Muslim registry, as Donald Trump, as a candidate, said he might do. But such a registry would face enormous legal obstacles before it ever become federal law. The bill prohibits local police from asking people on the street randomly about their immigration status, which is largely barred in the state anyway.
If adopted by the state Senate, the bill would represent that increasingly rare legislative thing: a compromise.