Three days before the Howard County Council is set to vote on legislation to end the county’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a collection of immigrant and justice groups in the county announced its support for the bill.
During a virtual news conference Friday afternoon, a dozen speakers from the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice put their support behind County Council Vice Chairperson Liz Walsh’s bill to end the county’s contract with ICE to house immigration detainees at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup.
“Howard County’s contract with ICE is wrong,” Walsh said Friday. “... Council Bill 51 ends Howard County’s contract with ICE, all of it, for good. In three days, the Howard County Council will decide whether that’s the right thing to do. And, you know, it is.”
Many of those who spoke during the virtual event were from the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice — a group made up of different advocacy organizations like CASA, Friends of Latin America and Jews United for Justice.
“This legislation will send a strong message to immigrants in Howard County that they are welcome here,” Gustavo Torres, CASA’s executive director, said in support of the bill. “It will also play a role in decreasing the number of people detained by ICE.”
“Collaborating with ICE makes us complicit with their inhumane and racist policies that target primarily people of color,” said Leslie Salgado, Friends of Latin America chairperson.
The bill, which Walsh proposed last month, would stop the Howard County Department of Corrections from accepting individuals detained by federal immigration law enforcement agencies. Howard County’s contract with ICE, which has existed since 1995, allows immigration detainees, excluding women and children, to be held in the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup.
The bill requires three votes for passage. Council member David Yungmann said Friday he does not support the legislation.
“CB-51, with its offensive rhetoric about law enforcement, is nothing more than pro-illegal immigration forces advancing their agendas at significant expense to Howard County taxpayers,” Yungmann said in a statement.
Council members Christiana Rigby and Opel Jones could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Last month, Rigby said she would vote to end the contract, stating, “Changes need to be made to how our county interacts with ICE.”
County Council Chairperson Deb Jung, who also spoke in support of the bill Friday, believes Rigby will vote in favor of the bill Monday.
“Christiana has made her position very clear, and she’s not going to go back on that vote,” Jung said Friday.
The deadline to make amendments to the bill was Thursday night and none have been made, Walsh said.
“Honestly, I did expect to see some amendments that would have the effect of lessening what was intended by CB-51 to correlate exactly to what was announced by [County Executive Calvin Ball] a couple weeks ago, and that didn’t happen,” Walsh said, referencing Ball’s policy revision to only hold ICE detainees convicted of a violent crime at the detention center. “I’m hopeful that Christiana’s vote stays where it is and that we earn Opel’s [vote].”
The Howard County Times reached out to Ball with questions surrounding Friday’s news conference and the council’s bill, and county spokesperson Scott Peterson responded.
“The county executive welcomes engagement and advocacy from residents on all issues,” Peterson said. “The interest, concern and compassion that so many Howard County residents demonstrate is a reason why this county is one of the best places to live in this nation.”
Peterson added that Ball is waiting until after a vote on the bill to decide whether he will sign the legislation or veto it.
Two weeks after Walsh introduced her bill, Ball announced a clarification to the county’s contract with ICE. The change stated the Howard County Detention Center would only accept immigration detainees from ICE who were convicted of a “crime of violence,” such as murder, rape, manslaughter, robbery, and serious assaults and sexual offenses. The change went into effect Sept. 24.
“Although the announced policy says the county will only accept for detention those people who have been convicted of violent crime, it won’t stop who ICE is targeting or ICE’s aims in terms of the harm it will cause to the person it’s detaining and their family,” Walsh said Friday.
Torres said during a county news conference announcing the policy change on Sept. 18 that he was pleased with the updated policy and that it would fix some of the problems with the previous one. He said Friday that CASA’s support of the council’s bill does not mean the organization was unhappy with Ball’s decision to clarify the county’s contract with ICE last month.
“We absolutely support CB-51 ... but we are also very proud of the county executive’s policy [change],” Torres said Friday. “It was a step in the right direction. He did a good job, and we really hope to continue the conversation with the county executive.”
CASA has organized several protests this year against the county’s contract with ICE. The first came in March with more than two dozen vehicles circling the parking lot and honking their horns outside the detention center. Then, in June, CASA and the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice held a protest outside the George Howard Building where Ball and the County Council work. A month later, hundreds marched through Old Ellicott City to protest the contract.
Besides Howard, Frederick and Worcester are the other two counties in Maryland that receive money from ICE to house immigration detainees at their jails. In January 2019, Anne Arundel County ended its ICE contract.
Howard County does not participate in the 287(g) program — a training ICE gives to local police in federal immigration law so county jails can screen inmates for immigration violations. Cecil, Frederick and Harford counties do participate in the program.
Ten percent of ICE detainees in the detention center are from Howard County, according to Howard County Department of Corrections Director Jack Kavanagh. The majority of the detainees are from Prince George’s, Baltimore and Montgomery counties, with another 10% coming from out of state, he said.
A vote on the bill is scheduled to take place during the County Council’s legislative session Monday, which begins at 7 p.m. The virtual meeting can be livestreamed at cc.howardcountymd.gov/Online-Tools/Watch-Us.