President Donald Trump's executive order to limit federal funding to jurisdictions self-designated as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants could complicate an already heated debate in Howard County, where the Council is scheduled to vote early next month on a proposal to become a sanctuary.
The president's order, which states sanctuary cities have caused "immeasurable harm," is expected to create friction between localities across the country and the Trump administration.
"We've been telling localities who are considering becoming sanctuaries to introduce the legislation. Bring it on. And it is time to sue," said Kim Propeack of CASA de Maryland. "The federal government does not have the right to order a locality to enforce immigration law."
Trump is directing the Department of Homeland Security to limit "federal funds, except as mandated by law" to communities that do not cooperate with federal requests for information on immigration status. But it's unclear how much federal funding is on the line.
Howard County received $11.8 million in federal grants in 2016 — less than 1 percent of the county's overall budget from last year. But immigration experts say it's unlikely Trump can target all federal funding.
In the last two years, Congressional Republicans have targeted five specific grants in order to defund sanctuaries. Howard County receives about $3.4 million — or less than 0.3 percent of the county's total budget last year — for three of those grants, including the Justice Assistance Grant for fighting crime; Community Development Block Grant, which funds local development projects; and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which covers funds for detaining immigrants.
Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, a Democrat who proposed the bill in Howard with fellow Democrat Councilman Calvin Ball, said Trump's order validates her support of the bill, which she said detangles local law enforcement from federal immigration and commits the community to standing behind undocumented immigrants.
"This is exactly what we were concerned about," Terrasa said. "There are a lot of police departments and cities all over the country who are examining their practices and looking at their values to see how we're going to respond."
Ball said the executive order reaffirms the importance of discussing the sanctuary bill.
"The executive order makes it even more clear that President Trump is going to be targeting many undocumented immigrants," Ball said, adding that many of the county's existing policies may also be under question by the order.
Even without the sanctuary label, Howard police do not ask individuals about their immigration status on routine stops — a practice that less restrictive "sanctuary" jurisdictions adopt.
Opponents of Howard's sanctuary designation proposal include Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, a Republican who pledged to veto the bill if it passes the Council.
Through a spokesperson, Kittleman denied to comment further on Trump's order or whether it validated his concerns.
Councilman Greg Fox, a Republican, said the order was irrelevant to his opposition of the bill.
"I don't need the president's action to be validated. My position was already validated by the numerous constituents who testified and opposed the bill," Fox said.
Jonathan Greene, an immigration attorney who helped craft the bill, said the Council looked into "a crystal ball" when the bill was proposed.
"The executive order does not change the fact that the bill complies with federal statutes. The Trump administration still must obey the Constitution. The Trump administration will be forced to defend its overreaching actions in court where the Constitution will have the last word," Greene said in a statement.
Trump's order is not the first time sanctuary cities have been targeted.
Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Justice Department investigated grant recipients based on potential violations of a federal statute that requires information-sharing between local and federal agencies.
U.S. Supreme Court precedent suggests the Trump administration cannot cut off federal grants unless funding is explicitly conditioned on enforcement of federal deportation policies. The impact of the order depends on which grants the Trump administration attempts to pull, said Ilya Somin, law professor at George Mason University.
A 2012 Supreme Court decision also forbids conditioning funds in a way that would be a "gun to the head" of local or state governments.
The U.S. Attorney General cannot revoke grants based on formulas created by Congress without the approval of lawmakers.
"The most obvious likely challenge is simply to argue … the president has no authority to add conditions that were not specifically authorized by Congress," Somin said.
Compliance with ICE
The sanctuary bill does nothing to change how the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup interacts with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, said Jack Kavanaugh, director of the Howard County Department of Corrections.
Trump's order asks DHS to identify localities that don't comply with detention requests. Federal courts throughout the country have ruled compliance with these requests are voluntary.
In Howard, the detention center rejects every request from ICE to detain inmates, booked on charges unrelated to citizenship, for an additional 48 hours after the inmate is released, according to Kavanaugh. ICE needs the time to get a warrant to begin deportation proceedings.
The local jail denies ICE requests even if the inmate has prior felony convictions. But since the late 1980s, the center has housed ICE detainees as they undergo deportation proceedings.
The average stay in Howard's detention center for inmates detained by ICE is about three months but can be as long as a year. ICE pays the county $90 per day per inmate housed – totaling about $1.2 million in ICE payments this year.
The detention center does not participate in the 287G program, which deputizes local law enforcement to act as federal immigration agents in order to ensure the county's resources are targeted for correctional work, Kavanaugh said.
Howard County Police Chief Gary Gardner has also said parts of the bill do little to change the department's current policies. Last week, Gardner assured local lawmakers a routine stop by local police is not a gateway to deportation.
But Gardner is strongly opposed to the bill, which he said could threaten community safety and put critical funding on the line. Kavanaugh also said the bill could threaten federal funding.
"We seem to be risking funds to adopt a law that would not change any of the current local police practices already in place in the county," Gardner said.
Gardner said the bill bars the county from sharing information with ICE when the agency seeks to deport suspected gang members who have not committed a crime.
Local police should know if federal agents are conducting deportation raids in the county in order to protect the community and agents involved if the situation goes awry, Gardner said.
That happened in February 2008 when Howard police responded to a shooting at a motel in Laurel where a Washington, D.C., man shot two police officers, according to police records. A federal agent in plainclothes was also on the scene.
During routine traffic stops, if ICE fails to respond 10 minutes after being notified by the department's dispatch, Howard police will release individuals listed in a database that tracks deportees convicted of aggravated felonies like kidnapping and murder. .
The county's Office of Law is reviewing how the executive order will impact the bill.
As written, the bill doesn't prevent law enforcement from investigating criminal or suspected criminal activity. It also states federal and state policies would trump the bill.
"It is important, at this point in time, to have this community conversation," Ball said.