Anticipating stepped-up efforts to deport people who are in the country illegally, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh wrote to federal authorities Thursday asking that they declare the state's courts, schools and hospitals off limits to immigration agents.
In a letter to the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and immigration and border enforcement agencies, Frosh wrote that the lives of people in the country illegally could be put in danger if they are scared to use the justice system or get medical help.
Frosh, a Democrat, wrote that he was sending the letter in response to new immigration guidelines issued by the Trump administration that greatly expand the number of people considered a priority for removal from the country.
"I am concerned that the Administration's aggressive new policies will discourage the most vulnerable immigrants from seeking judicial protection and medical care, which will cause avoidable injuries and potentially even deaths," Frosh wrote.
"I ask that you take action to remove this immediate threat to the health and safety of immigrants in Maryland by declaring our courts and hospitals to be safe locations, where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs & Border Protection authorities will not be allowed to identify and seize potential deportees."
A Mexican woman was taken into custody by ICE agents at a court in Texas last month when she went to a judge to get a protective order against her allegedly abusive boyfriend. The woman's lawyer speculated that the boyfriend had himself tipped off immigration authorities that the woman would be in court.
Frosh also wrote that if immigrant parents are worried to send their children to school that could have lasting consequences.
"Although the threat to public health and safety is not as immediate, the longer-term effects of discouraging immigrant children from attending school will be no less harmful and far-reaching," the attorney general wrote.
Asked about the letter, a spokesman for ICE pointed to the agency's existing guidance on conducing operations at what it deems "sensitive locations," including schools, medical facilities, places of worship and public rallies or demonstrations.
The policy instructs agents to avoid seizing suspected illegal immigrants at those places and requires that any effort to do so is authorized by a supervisor or is an emergency.
"Enforcement actions may occur at sensitive locations in limited circumstances, but will generally be avoided," an FAQ on the policy reads. The ICE policy does not consider courts sensitive locations.
The spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about whether ICE would consider Frosh's request for a stricter policy.
Frosh's request mirrors efforts by jurisdictions led by Democrats in Maryland and around the country to declare themselves sanctuaries, meaning they won't use local resources to aid efforts to seize immigrants.
Supporters of the concept say turning police departments into arms of the immigration system can deter people from reporting when they are the victim of a crime or a witness to one.
Lawmakers in the General Assembly are considering a bill that would extend the sanctuary concept across the entire state.