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Baltimore Jews against ICE along with various community groups are protesting at the Howard County Detention Center. Jews and allies throughout Maryland have demonstrated publicly that they will not turn their backs on refugees arriving in the U.S. or on the immigrant residents already in America.
Baltimore Jews against ICE along with various community groups are protesting at the Howard County Detention Center. Jews and allies throughout Maryland have demonstrated publicly that they will not turn their backs on refugees arriving in the U.S. or on the immigrant residents already in America. (Xavier Plater/Baltimore Sun)

The Maryland legislative session has just begun, and the new era of leadership has left advocates and community members feeling hopeful for real progressive change in Maryland. With diverse leaders in new leadership positions, a bright light of hope is shining on issues that have too long been held back.

In contrast to the excitement about changes in the General Assembly, our disappointment has remained in the Trump administration’s continued verbal and enforcement attacks on immigrants. His leadership has ushered in greater attacks and promulgated misinformation across the country and certainly in Maryland — leaving immigrants feeling more vulnerable than ever. It’s critical that activists and advocates make it clear to our new Maryland leadership that immigration legislation must be prioritized this session.

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There are several bills that lawmakers should pass.

  • The Maryland Dream Act Expansion: We are all familiar with the Maryland Dream Act, legislation passed in 2012 that allows students to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities in Maryland, regardless of their immigration status. The Maryland Dream Act Expansion is a bill that was passed by the General Assembly last session and vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan. This piece of legislation would change some of the requirements for eligible students, most notably, removing the community college first requirement. Maryland has already agreed that students who are living in the state and paying state taxes should pay the same tuition as regular Marylanders — now let’s finish what was started last year, and make sure that the Dream Act gets the job done to support undocumented students as well as those that are DACA and temporary protected status.
  • Private prison legislation: One thing that (I hope) most Maryland lawmakers can agree on is that no person or business should profit off of the incarceration of human beings. With ICE actively seeking the construction of a new immigration detention facility in the state, a “Dignity not Detention” bill will be introduced to ban privately run immigration facilities and phase out the state’s role in ICE detention. This legislation is critical to ensuring that immigrants are not being unjustly detained in harsh and inhumane conditions so that others can profit. Maryland is better than that and we can get this passed.
  • The Maryland Trust Act: As previously mentioned, the change in leadership in Maryland is a refreshing and hopeful change, especially in the Judicial Proceedings Committee in the Senate that many immigrant-related bills must go through during the legislative process. It seems that in the blink of an eye, the committee went from one of the most conservative committees to one of the most progressive. This huge change (and win) for our immigrant community has many feeling optimistic about the possibility of trust legislation passing in the Senate. The Maryland Trust Act that was most recently introduced in 2017 is likely going to be introduced again this session. The Trust Act is essentially legislation that would stop state agencies from collaborating and partnering with ICE. There is a long list of reasons why programs like 287 programs are dangerous for the community and do not equal safety. Passage of trust legislation would allow for vulnerable immigrants to be more willing to report crimes, use available health and social services for their families and enroll their children in school. With Montgomery County and Prince George’s fearless new trust laws, the time is now for the state to take action on the Maryland Trust Act.
  • Privacy Legislation will be put forward by other progressive legislators this session that would stop the Motor Vehicle Administration from sharing data with ICE. Yes, it’s happening and it’s horrifying. Lawmakers in Maryland should be outraged that driver’s license legislation that they passed in 2013 that allowed immigrants, regardless of status, to get a driver’s license is now putting families at risk of deportation. This legislation, along with legislation that would stop the use of facial recognition software to target immigrants, will be a priority for every immigration advocate in the state.

The short 90-day clock is already ticking for our senators and delegates to tackle hundreds of pieces of legislation this session — let’s work together to make sure that this upcoming legislation that will protect our neighbors is front and center. See you there.

Cathryn Paul (cpaul@wearecasa.org) is a research and policy analyst at CASA, an immigration services and advocacy organization located in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

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