Bill to limit police involvement in immigration advances in Maryland Senate

The state Senate is moving forward just one piece of a bill once known as the Trust Act, which was intended to limit local involvement in federal immigration enforcement.

The Trust Act, already watered down by the House of Delegates, will not advance in the Senate. Instead, the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee endorsed only a narrow section of the bill: A prohibition on police officers asking people about their immigration or citizenship status before they are arrested.

The committee voted unanimously Friday night to put that prohibition into another bill that will head to the full Senate for consideration on Monday, the final day of the General Assembly's 90-day session.

"I believe there's a lot of good in this bill," said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, the Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the committee.

The legislation essentially codifies case law that already prohibits police officers from stopping a person to check immigration or citizenship status.

The committee's legislation also requires police departments to have written policies and training for officers about the law.

The committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill. If approved by the full Senate, the House of Delegates would also have to sign off on the changes by midnight Monday in order for the bill to be presented to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Initially, the Trust Act would have prevented local or state government agencies from using any resources for immigration purposes — a response to Republican President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration.

It would have put an end to programs under which jail officers are trained by the federal government to investigate possible immigration violations among inmates, known as 287(g).

The House of Delegates approved a version of the Trust Act that would have allowed the jail programs to continue. But it would have allowed jails to hold people past their release dates for immigration purposes only if federal agents present a warrant signed by a judge.

Some senators, however, expressed concern over the past few weeks that even the watered-down version of the Trust Act went too far. The governor also criticized that version of the bill and indicated he would veto it.

Sen. Michael Hough, a Frederick County Republican, said the bill addresses a key concern that immigrants fear being stopped in their day-to-day lives and questioned about their legal status.

"This is a statement from us that we all agree police should not be doing this," Hough said.

"It gives certainty that no one is going out looking for people," added Sen. Justin Ready, a Carroll County Republican.

Lawmakers and advocates who promoted the Trust Act expressed frustration that the bill would not move forward.

Sen. Victor Ramirez, sponsor of the Trust Act, reluctantly withdrew his bill. "I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this," the Prince George's County Democrat said.

"We believe the House of Delegates took a strong position … It's clear the Senate won't do what the House had the guts to do," said Kimberley Propeack of the immigrant advocacy group CASA.

Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, a Democrat representing Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, said the House version of the Trust Act was strong legislation.

"Anything short of that would be a disappointment," she said.

pwood@baltsun.com

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