Liberty Act helps immigrant community
Howard County residents may be aware of an effort to overturn the Liberty Act, a bill that was just voted into law in the county (“Petition in Howard County seeks to create referendum on new sanctuary law,” Feb. 10). It was introduced by council member Opel Jones with the goal to ensure that all residents, regardless of nationality or citizenship, have fair and equal access to county benefits, opportunities and services.
With a 4-1 vote and overwhelming support during the bill’s hearing, the Liberty Act reflects the vast majority of Howard residents.
The act prohibits county employees and agents from taking any action that discriminates based on immigration status and requires that information related to immigration status remain confidential. The bill does not apply whenever the provision conflicts with state or federal law, international treaty, or an existing agreement between the county and a federal, state or local agency such as the one Howard County has with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Liberty Act is important to counteract the fear of police in the immigrant community. Many immigrants fear that if they report crime, police will obtain their immigrant status and report them to ICE. Many employers have exploited our immigrant neighbors precisely because of this situation, and victims feel helpless to report these crimes. Many immigrants fear obtaining help from county agencies and nonprofits, again because they fear being reported to ICE and facing possible deportation.
A group called Citizens For A Strong And Safe Howard County has been circulating inflammatory language in an effort to put the Liberty Act up for a statewide referendum in the 2022 election. This group has hired professional canvassers to peddle the petition. Its unsubstantiated claim that undocumented immigrants will flock to Howard implies that they commit more crimes than citizens. In fact, statistics show the opposite. The high cost of living in Howard County is obviously a deterrent for low-income people to relocate here.
The Liberty Act is one step toward ensuring that fairness and compassion be shown to all county residents. With four out of five council members along with our county executive in full support, I feel sure that the Liberty Act will be ratified if it makes it to the 2022 ballot. But should we allow misinformation and xenophobia to continue to drive divisive politics for years to come?
The writer is a member of Howard County Indivisible’s Immigration and Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice action teams.