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Calls made on both sides of Trust Act debate as last week of session begins

Harford County Sheriff Gahler and Frederick County Sheriff Jenkins explain why they oppose the legislation that seeks to limit local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Supporters and opponents held separate rallies Monday to call attention to legislation before the General Assembly that would limit Maryland law enforcement's cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

The bill, known as the Trust Act, passed the House of Delegates but has stalled in a state Senate committee. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has said he would veto it.

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It would make it illegal for police to ask people they stop or arrest about their immigration status. It would also prevent jails from holding people suspected of being in the country illegally at the request of federal officials, unless a judge has signed a warrant.

The bill emerged from the House considerably watered down — many of its provisions merely codify current practice.

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But the measure has become a symbol to many Democrats in the legislature of their efforts to push back against the agenda of Republican President Donald J. Trump, who has moved to intensify efforts to deport people without authorization to be in the United States.

Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk said failing to pass the bill would reflect poorly on Democrats in Maryland.

"Why are we vacillating when we are a majority Democratic body in both the House and the Senate? People expect us to lead, people expect us to make a decision," the Anne Arundel and Prince George's County Democrat said at a news conference. "If Hogan wants to, if he wants to veto it let it be on him. Not on us."

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, the chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the bill would not come up for a vote Monday, but didn't rule out holding a vote later in the week.

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Earlier Monday, the sheriffs of Harford and Frederick Counties held a news conference with some General Assembly Republicans arguing against the bill. The two counties participate in a program known as 287g, under which local jailors get training to work with federal authorities on immigration enforcement efforts.

While that program would not be affected by the bill, the sheriffs said requiring a federal judge to sign off on requests to hold someone for immigration reasons would lead to dangerous people being set free.

Charles A. Jenkins, the Frederick County sheriff, said the bill would hurt public safety and national security.

"Not only will it make it a sanctuary state, but a magnet state," Jenkins said. Immigrants in the country illegally who want to commit serious crimes would be lured to Maryland, he said, because they would have less fear of being deported.

The term "sanctuary" — sometimes applied to cities, counties and states that decline to work closely with federal immigration authorities — has become loaded, even though its parameters remain fuzzy. The Trump administration has said it will try to withhold some federal funding for such jurisdictions.

Del. Carlo Sanchez, one of the Maryland bill's leading champions, said it's not clear whether it would lead to Maryland losing money and that the state should embrace its identity as a sanctuary for people fleeing persecution abroad.

"We all believe that there are people here who want to live the American dream and want their children to be successful who are scared of the violence that is going on in their home countries and know that going back means death," the Prince George's County Democrat said. "If that's what we're becoming a sanctuary against, then I welcome it."

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