After a monthlong debate over legislation to end Howard County’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the bill passed the council in a 3-2 vote earlier this week. On Wednesday, County Executive Calvin Ball vetoed that bill.
One week after the legislation was initially introduced by County Council Vice Chair Liz Walsh, Ball announced that the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup would only accept immigration detainees from ICE who are convicted of a “crime of violence,” such as murder, rape, manslaughter and robbery.
This was a policy shift from what the county was previously doing: detaining undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes, validated gang members, deported felons who have illegally made their way back to the United States and people charged with jailable offenses.
“I remain confident that our updated detention center policy strikes the right balance of ensuring safety for county residents and businesses while allowing for fair treatment for those who have been convicted of serious crimes by the criminal justice system,” Ball wrote in a statement announcing his veto.
This was only the second of Ball’s tenure. The first was in April 2019 when he halted a bill that would have expanded the buffer zone for new developments built along scenic roads.
Walsh called Wednesday’s veto “a profound disappointment” and said she was surprised to see the veto so fast. She added that she would wait to see how the council would respond to a potential override of the veto at the next County Council vote on Nov. 2. Four votes are needed in the council to override Ball’s veto. Council Chairperson Deb Jung, Christiana Mercer Rigby and Walsh voted in favor, while Opel Jones and David Yungmann voted against.
“We like to pride ourselves here in Howard County on being inclusive and diverse, but right here in our backyard is this agency that by all accounts is immoral and cruel,” Walsh said Thursday.
Walsh said she’s also watching to see whether the Dignity not Detention Act, introduced at the state level by Montgomery County Del. Vaughn Stewart, will be reintroduced and moved out of committee in the next legislative session.
Stewart’s legislation suggests prohibiting the state or local jurisdictions from “entering into an agreement relating to the establishment of an immigration detention facility owned or operated by a private entity” and prohibits the state or local jurisdictions from entering or renewing an immigration detention agreement.
In his statement, Ball emphasized his policy change was endorsed by CASA, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and immigration advocates, though last week CASA clarified they supported the policy change as well as CB-51, the council bill.
“The council’s passing of CB-51 would end a 25-year contract that has helped make Howard County and the state of Maryland safer,” Ball wrote in the statement. “By prohibiting housing ICE detainees in the detention center, the bill would result in ICE detainees being moved to other facilities in other states, so making it tougher for ICE detainees to access legal representation and their families.”
Ball added that he agreed with the Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network that opposed the bill for lack of a comprehensive plan and solution for detainees who would be transferred.
“If the goal is to ensure that all ICE detainees are treated humanely and with dignity in the Trump administration era, we should want them housed at the Howard County Detention Center,” Ball wrote.
Liz Alex, chief of organizing at CASA, an advocacy group for Latino and immigrant people in Maryland, said after the past few months of discussion with the county, the group hopes “the momentum carries” into the future.
“We’re disappointed that the county executive vetoed CB-51,” Alex said. “We are looking forward to working with him and the council to implement a countywide trust policy that will limit collaboration and communication between all county agencies and immigration.”
At Monday’s vote, Jones said he would be introducing legislation along the lines of a trust act or community policing policies in the coming weeks.
“I, too, share the vision that changes in the form of legislation must be done to protect those contributing members to our community,” Jones said Monday. “I know that this must be done in the most impactful way that does not cause further harm to the immigrants and their families.”
Yungmann, the lone Republican on the council, said he was surprised to see Ball’s veto but fully supported that decision.
“The policy change that [the county executive] announced a couple weeks ago was a very common-sense, measured compromise,” Yungmann said Thursday.