Gov. Larry Hogan said last week that local law enforcement should be doing more, not less, to help enforce federal immigration law.
The Republican governor criticized Maryland jurisdictions that have rebuffed requests to aid immigration officials. Hogan vowed to do "everything we can" to kill what he termed a "sanctuary bill" that would limit how jails and police could assist federal authorities.
Hogan said he would try to stop the state Senate from following the House of Delegates in approving the measure. Failing that, he renewed his promise to veto it immediately.
"I believe that local law enforcement should be cooperating fully with federal law enforcement," Hogan told reporters in Annapolis on March 21. He called efforts to limit that cooperation "absurd."
The governor's remarks on cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement provoked a strong rebuke from immigrant and civil rights groups.
"We are living in an era in which ICE is terrorizing, racially profiling and conducting targeted enforcement in the heart of our immigrant communities," Gustavo Torres, director of the immigrant advocacy group CASA, said in a statement. "We must ensure that our local law enforcement plays no part in facilitating that."
CASA joined nine other groups in issuing a statement saying the bill advancing in the General Assembly "does not alter the normal operations of the criminal justice system." Rather, they said, the bill is designed to send a message to the undocumented immigrant community that interacting with police and reporting crimes will not lead to their deportation.
The legislation would prohibit police from inquiring into someone's immigration status or turning them over to federal authorities without a judge's order. Jails would be forbidden from honoring requests from ICE to detain people solely for immigration infractions, unless a judge orders that.
Hogan ended his predecessor's policy of having jail officials refuse to give immigration authorities information about when people will be released. The bill would allow the state to continue notifying ICE.
Other provisions would prohibit state money from being used to create a registry that could be used to take action against people on the basis of immigration status, ethnic origin or religion.
Existing local-federal partnerships to assist immigration enforcement in county jails, known as 287(g) programs, would be allowed to continue.
Leaders in the Senate were not deterred by the governor's veto threat.
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said his committee has not deeply debated the merits of the plan, but he expects to eventually present it to the full Senate.
"It's not an issue we know a lot about," said Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, also a Democrat, said the governor overreacted by issuing a veto threat. Miller called the bill "reasonable."
"The state of Maryland is not going to become a sanctuary state," said Miller, who represents Calvert County. "If you're on your way to church, if you're on your way to court, if you're walking down the street, people shouldn't come up to you randomly and ask you what your name is and where you live, solely for the purposes of seeking to deport you."
Hogan said he decided, upon taking office two years ago, that correctional officers at the state-run Baltimore detention center should help the federal government with immigration enforcement requests. The bill, he said, would compel him to reverse that policy.
"We detain people for 48 hours so that ICE has the ability to come in and do whatever action they want to take," Hogan said. "And now, this law would prohibit us from detaining them and force us to turn people loose on the streets."
A spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, however, characterized the existing jail program differently. Gerard Shields, the department spokesman, said the city jail does not hold people for 48 hours solely for immigration reasons unless ICE presents a warrant signed by a judge.
Under the bill, that practice would be allowed to continue.
Jails in 17 other Maryland jurisdictions also refuse to hold people without a judge's order, according to data compiled by the ACLU in 2015.
A spokeswoman for the governor said he was making a broader point that law enforcement professionals, not the legislature, should make decisions about aiding immigration officials. Spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the bill "sets a dangerous precedent about the state's commitment to upholding the law."