The Annapolis Office of Law is raising concerns about proposed non-discrimination legislation saying it duplicates federal laws and could put the city at risk of losing federal funds under the Donald Trump administration.
The legislation would bar city employees from denying services or questioning foreign-born residents about their immigration status while still allowing employees — namely police officers — to join the federal government in joint task force immigration activities.
But the law office says undocumented residents are protected under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution and the city could step on the federal government's toes by passing laws on issues strictly handled by the federal government, such as immigration.
The office is drafting legislation to meet the sponsor's requirements and address concerns raised by city attorney Mike Leahy. Leahy also is attempting to clean up language in the bill he has deemed vague and at risk for lawsuits.
"Under the equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, all persons are to be accorded equal protection under the law...," Leahy said. "You can't offer them more protection than they already have."
Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles, D-Ward 3, also raised concerns about the current legislation not passing legal tests. She did not return phone calls for comment.
The legislation is likely to come up for a vote at the council's Feb. 13 meeting.
Alderman Jared Littmann, D-Ward 5, said he was aware of Leahy's concerns but disagreed the city would invalidate or bypass federal laws. Littmann sponsored the bill and views his legislation as codifying city policy in respect of the federal law.
Support for the legislation is high, with more than 20 speakers asking City Council to pass the legislation at Monday's City Council meeting. The speakers talked about their fears of oppression that someone could turn them or an undocumented person over to federal authorities.
This law allows the city to continue with its policy and to punish city employees who do discriminate, rather than getting other authorities involved, Littmann said.
"We are making into law what is already existing policy, in that sense it doesn't represent any new costs or new services," he said. "It is important to put into code and protect people from being asked about their status when it is not relevant."
While no one spoke out in opposition to the bill on Monday, some have raised concerns to The Capital and City Council members the legislation would create a "Sanctuary City." These are cities that have passed laws to limit cooperation with the federal government's immigration enforcement.
Littmann and Mayor Mike Pantelides said the law doesn't create a sanctuary city like New York or some cities in Iowa.
The law allows the city to work with the federal government on immigration enforcement for those who have committed crimes, Littmann said.
But that definition may not matter to the federal government, especially in light of the presidential election. President Trump signed an executive order threatening to pull federal funding from districts deemed "sanctuary jurisdictions." The order tasks the secretary of Homeland Security to designate these jurisdictions. A 1996 law prohibits local governments from withholding that information.
Under the city's law, the city police department would still send information to the federal government as fingerprints of criminals are analyzed by federal authorities. And the law doesn't bar police from cooperating with federal authorities "who have established that probable cause exists to apprehend an undocumented foreign-born resident who has engaged in criminal activity."
Still, the Trump administration will decide which city is a sanctuary jurisdiction.
"Whether we think it is a sanctuary city or not, it is about what the federal government thinks," Leahy said. "If the federal government thinks it is a sanctuary city we could lose money."
Pantelides said the city should make efforts to inform the community of the protections they already have under federal law.
"There needs to be a bigger outreach into the community about people's rights under the law," Pantelides said. "The city isn't responsible for immigration or deportation. That is a federal issue."