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Members of the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice called on county officials to end its contract with ICE on Oct. 16 in Columbia.
Members of the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice called on county officials to end its contract with ICE on Oct. 16 in Columbia. (Jess Nocera / Baltimore Sun)

Originally from El Salvador, Jose Lovos has lived in Howard County for 12 years. The Elkridge resident enjoys living in the county because of the schools for his children.

Speaking out about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ahead of a Howard County Human Rights Commission meeting, Lovos said the family is the “base of society, and if they [ICE agents] stop me or my wife, they are breaking my family and that is breaking our society.”

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The Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice met outside the Oct. 16 meeting, located on Patuxent Woods Drive in Columbia, and called on county officials to end its contract with ICE, which allows immigration detainees to be held in the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup.

Laurie Liskin, a co-facilitator of Howard County Indivisible’s immigration arm and coalition member, called on Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and the County Council “to provide support for our foreign born neighbors” outside the commission meeting.

“We believe Howard County should not be collaborating with ICE,” Liskin said.

Howard officials have said the detention center holds undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes, validated gang members, those charged with jailable offenses and deported felons who have illegally made their way back to the United States. The center does not hold women or children ICE detainees.

Under the discretion of former County Executive Charles Ecker, the initial agreement was signed in 1995 with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The contract was transferred to ICE when federal immigration migrated to the Department of Homeland Security as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Howard’s contract has generated more than $14 million in revenue between mid-2013 and 2019, according to figures provided by Jack Kavanagh, director of the detention facility. ICE is charged $110 each day per detainee by the county.

After rallying outside, coalition members then attended the commission’s meeting and spoke during public comment.

The coalition includes the Columbia Jewish Congregation, Howard County Indivisible Immigration Action Team, Our Revolution Howard County, ACLU-Maryland, CASA in Action, Friends Committee on Immigration and Refugees, Indian Cultural Association of Howard County, Friends of Latin America, Jews United for Justice, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, Friends Committee on Immigration and Refugees, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Chinese-American Network for Diversity and Opportunity.

Bob Ford, chair of the 14-member commission, briefly addressed the public testimonies, urging the coalition to speak to their elected officials.

“We hope we can do something to help you,” Ford said.

Leslie Salgado, a member of Friends of Latin America and on the human rights commission, spoke as an individual ahead of the meeting and stood outside with her fellow coalition members.

Salgado, originally from Ecuador, has lived in Columbia since 1971.

Throughout the years, “Columbia in Howard County has been ahead of the curve of human rights so now it seems to be that we are behind,” Salgado said.

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Molly Amster, director of Jews United for Justice Baltimore branch, said, “Howard County collaborating with ICE violates human rights and therefore the county should end all collaboration, including the agreement [contract].”

Ball has previously said the county “does not assist ICE in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Howard County police officers do not ask residents about their immigration status, nor do they contact ICE if they learn of violations of federal immigration laws.”

Detention centers in Frederick and Worcester counties are the only other two in the state that hold ICE detainees. Anne Arundel County ended its ICE contract in January.

A name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. It has since been corrected.

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