Howard lawmakers set to consider overriding veto of hotly-debated immigration bill

The Howard County Council on Monday will attempt to override Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman's veto of a controversial immigration bill that affirms protections for undocumented immigrants.

The bill, which drew almost two dozen hours of impassioned public testimony earlier this year and passed the five-member council by a 3-2 margin on Feb. 6, needs four votes to become veto-proof.


Democratic council members Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa proposed the bill in response to President Donald Trump's election, which they said galvanized fear in immigrant communities and led to increased racism and bigotry. The bill originally labeled the county as a "sanctuary" for undocumented immigrants, a designation that limits the county's cooperation with federal immigration authorities, but council members stripped the label from the bill in response to concerns the designation could compromise federal funding.

Trump earlier this year pledged to drop federal funding to sanctuary jurisdictions.

A microcosm of the national immigration debate flared in Howard County's packed government chambers Tuesday night as more than 500 community members staked a divided stand on a bill that would label Howard County as a "sanctuary" for undocumented immigrants.

Kittleman, a Republican, maintained that the bill was a hollow political gesture that gave a false sense of security to undocumented residents, threatened federal funding and attempted to make a solution for a problem that does not exist.

Opponents of the bill, clad in red shirts, plan to pack the council's chambers Monday night, said Frank Mirabile, who is leading a group that opposes the bill. Opponents denounced the bill as a political game by the sponsors and said the measure would attract crime and make the county a beacon for undocumented immigrants, among other concerns.

"We're planning on having our red sea there again, if you will," Mirabile said. "It looks like, at this point in time, they're not going to have the votes to override. We're cautiously optimistic."

County Council Chairman Jon Weinstein was the only Democrat on the five-member council to vote against the bill. He plans to vote against overriding Kittleman's veto, he said.

Capping weeks of contentious debate intensified by President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration, Howard County lawmakers voted 3-2 in favor of legislation to make the county a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants — without formally adopting the label of "sanctuary."

"I continue be disturbed by what's going at the federal level and I continue to work with key stakeholders locally on a practical level," Weinstein said.

In a public statement last month, Weinstein wrote that the measure does little "to allay the day-to-day fear and anxiety" of undocumented immigrants and complicates interactions between undocumented immigrants and the county, including the police department.

Ball, Terrasa and Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, a Democrat, voted for the bill. Councilman Greg Fox, a Republican, voted against the bill. Ball declined to comment on the bill before the vote.

Advocates of the bill, who argued the measure stakes a principled stand for immigrants at a time of uncertainty, continue to push the council to override the veto.

In a letter sent to the council Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union called on the council to override Kittleman's veto.

"The time is now for local governments to protect vulnerable residents, as the Trump administration is prioritizing removal of every noncitizen in this country regardless of whether the individual has a felony conviction, or just a traffic ticket," said Nick Steiner, ACLU of Maryland's legal and policy counsel.

The council will vote on the bill and all other legislation introduced last month on Monday at 7 p.m. in the George Howard building in Ellicott City.

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