The Howard County Council on Monday evening is set to vote on legislation to end the county’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Introduced last month by County Council Vice Chairperson Liz Walsh, the bill would stop the Howard County Department of Corrections from accepting individuals detained by federal immigration law enforcement agencies. Howard County’s current 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.
Last month, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced an updated policy for the county’s contract. The change states 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.
The county’s previous policy was to detain 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.
County spokesperson Scott Peterson said Friday that Ball is waiting until after a vote on the bill to decide whether he will sign the legislation or veto it.
During a virtual news conference Friday afternoon, a dozen speakers 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 — put their support behind the bill.
“This legislation will send a strong message to immigrants in Howard County that they are welcome here,” Gustavo Torres, CASA’s executive director, said Friday. “It will also play a role in decreasing the number of people detained by ICE.”
Prior to the meeting, CASA is expected to organize a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. in front of the George Howard Building in Ellicott City, where the offices of the County Council and the county executive are located.
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.
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.