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Bill from Carroll County senator requires cooperation with ICE; sheriff says that already happens locally

Even as Maryland Democrats move to make collaboration between federal immigration officials and local law enforcement agencies more difficult, state Sen. Justin Ready of Carroll County has filed legislation to do the opposite, and Carroll’s sheriff is pushing back as well.

A bill sponsored by Ready would require state and local correctional facilities to notify the U.S. Department of Homeland Security when they have a person in custody who is wanted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees on Jan. 29 issued a letter supporting Ready’s bill. In that letter, DeWees said he “won’t have any legislative body” prevent him from communicating with any other law enforcement agency.

If approved by the Maryland General Assembly, Senate Bill 332, of which Ready is the lead sponsor, would require a state or local correctional facility to notify DHS at least 72 hours prior to the scheduled release of a person who is subject to an immigration detainer.

A detainer is different from an arrest warrant in that a detainer is a request. When ICE issues an immigration detainer, it is requesting a law enforcement agency to notify them as early as possible before an individual described by ICE as “removable” is released from criminal custody. ICE places detainers on people who were arrested on criminal charges and for whom ICE has probable cause to believe do not have legal citizenship status.

“There’s no law that says they have to communicate with DHS," Ready, R-District 5, said in an interview.

Ready is concerned that, in some parts of Maryland, detention centers are releasing immigrants with detainers from ICE after local criminal charges have been resolved.

“These counties are saying it’s not our job to tell DHS," Ready said, naming Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Ready’s bill is unlikely to be approved by the Democratic-majority General Assembly, but he does not view his bill as controversial or partisan. He is hopeful it is a bill any legislator could support.

“We need to do something here," Ready said. “I’m going to push as hard as I can to get it passed.”

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Ready is co-sponsoring a bill put forth by Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, Senate Bill 197, which is similar to Ready’s bill in that it would require local authorities to notify DHS when they have a person with an immigration detainer in custody. Hough is one of the co-sponsors of Ready’s bill.

Democratic legislators have introduced competing legislation that would make collaboration between Maryland law enforcement and ICE contingent on a judicial warrant and put up other roadblocks for local agencies moving to collaborate with federal authorities.

Sheriffs in Frederick, Harford and Cecil counties spoke in Annapolis on Tuesday in opposition of that legislation. Those three counties are the only of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions to run 287(g) programs — wherein ICE delegates limited immigration enforcement authority to other law enforcement agencies.

DeWees, who also supports Hough’s bill, wrote in his letter of support that Ready’s bill is a “mirror image” of his office’s policy when communicating with DHS.

About 10 times a year, the Carroll County Detention Center encounters an inmate that has an open detainer or warrant through DHS, DeWees wrote. When that occurs, DHS is notified and given 48 hours to take custody of the inmate before they are released, according to DeWees.

“Oftentimes [DHS] is not interested in pursuing the detainer once they learn the inmate is going to be released on bond. But there are times [DHS] wants to take custody of the individual before they are released on bond from [the detention center],” DeWees wrote.

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The letter further states that the Sheriff’s Office has had this policy for years and DeWees has no plans to change it.

“Furthermore, I simply can’t and won’t have any legislative body tell me I can’t communicate with another law enforcement agency regarding matters of public safety in my county; regardless of whether they are local, state or federal law enforcement,” DeWees wrote.

This is not Ready’s first attempt to get such legislation passed. In 2018, he co-sponsored a similar bill that did not make it out of committee. Ready said he did not want to speculate whether his bill would meet the same fate, but said he believes there is some “openness” among his colleagues in Annapolis.

The bill has been heard in the judicial proceedings committee, he said.

The next step would be for the chairman of the committee, Sen. Will Smith Jr., D-20, to decide whether to recommend the bill for a vote by the committee. If the bill passes the 11-person committee, which has seven Democratic members, then it would go to the Senate floor for consideration.

Baltimore Sun Media reporter James Whitlow contributed to this article.

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