The Baltimore County Council effectively killed a bill that would have required the county’s jail to participate in a federal immigration screening program with a 5-2 vote on Monday to table the measure, which sparked great debate in the Jewish community.
The legislation called for the county to join a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program known as 287(g).
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a staunch supporter of protecting undocumented immigrants who pledged to veto the bill if it passed, expressed his pleasure through a prepared statement with the council’s decision to table the measure.
“The Republican council bill was more about bringing [President] Donald Trump’s divisive politics to our county than doing what is best for our residents,” Kamenetz said. “I’m glad the council didn’t move forward with this legislation.”
Tabling the measure, introduced by the country’s three Republican council members on May 1, effectively kills the bill, as county bills expire after 45 days. The council is not scheduled to meet again until July 3, 64 days after the bill was proposed.
But Councilman Todd Crandell (R-District 7), the bill’s lead sponsor, said he plans to reintroduce the bill at some point in the not-too-distant future, according to The Baltimore Sun.
In the 287(g) program, ICE officials train police and correctional officers to assist with federal immigration enforcement. Frederick County has participated in the program since 2008, Harford County signed on with the program last year, and Anne Arundel County has applied to join the program.
In an emotionally charged hearing on May 30 that lasted approximately two hours, nearly 50 residents divided on the issue lined up in front of council members to make their opinions known.
All four Democrats on the council voiced strong opposition to the bill, citing concerns that the program could be used to take action against people on the basis of immigration status, ethnic origin or religion. They spent more than a half hour debating their stance with the three Republican sponsors of the bill — Crandell, Wade Kach (District 3) and David Marks (District 5) — before hearing testimony from the public.
Marks, a co-sponsor of the measure, joined the four Democrats — Councilman Tom Quirk (District 1), Councilwoman Vicki Almond (District 2), Councilman Julian Jones (District 4) and Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (District 6) — in voting against the bill.
Officials from the Baltimore Jewish Council and Jews United for Justice felt the bill would have unfairly targeted the undocumented community, while Jewish members of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee saw it as a means for removing illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.
Opponents argued that the bill would have damaged law enforcement’s relationship with the immigrant community, created mistrust and deterred immigrants from reporting crime.
Madeline Suggs, director of public affairs for the BJC, drew parallels to some of the hardships Jews suffered during the Holocaust.
“Obviously, the Jewish community has been familiar with discriminatory practices in our own history,” Suggs said. “We really want to show unity with our friends in the Latino and immigrant community.”
Molly Amster, JUFJ’s Baltimore director, said she believes it’s the job of police to make immigrants feel safe and welcomed.
“We need to make sure we protect everyone in our midst,” Amster said. “Immigration officials can deal with immigration issues, and police can deal with crime.”
Supporters contended local governments should have all the resources they can get to assist with immigration.
Al Mendelsohn, chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, told the JT after the May 30 hearing that he thought the program would have made it easier for local government to help enforce immigration laws.
He said he feels people who are in the U.S. without proper documentation should be identified and deported in a timely fashion if they commit a crime.
“It’s not often that a government has the chance to really round up the people who are harming society,” said Mendelsohn, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from Nazi Germany in 1940. “Certainly, when someone goes to jail, that is a time and a place that [law enforcement] clearly should be able to identify someone who has done anything wrong. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t paid their child support, if they’ve been driving without a license or if they have a bench warrant.”
Lisa Robin Lederman, who also sits on the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, said the legislation was “logical, reasonable and necessary.” She added that Kamenetz, who is weighing a run for governor, and the Democratic members of the council are “simply pandering for votes.”
“We have a huge, proliferating problem with MS-13 gang members, drug trafficking and other violent crimes,” Lederman said. “Our police officers must be allowed to work in partnership with federal immigration authorities to specifically target those illegal criminals and make sure they never return to our streets. This is a clear-cut issue of law and order.”
Last month, Kamenetz signed an executive order reinforcing the county’s policy not to hold people in jail past their release date for immigration reasons, unless “a court-ordered warrant signed by a judicial official is presented.” The order also prohibits county police officers from asking anyone’s immigration status.
Almond, who represents a majority of the county’s Jewish population, said one of her biggest issues with the bill was its potential cost to taxpayers.
While ICE provides a free four-week training course for correctional officers, the county might have had to foot the bill for substitute officers and transportation and lodging costs, opposing council members said. Almond cited a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that found the total cost of operating the program in its first year in Mecklenburg County, N.C., was $5.5 million.
She has also vowed to do her part to protect the 800,000-plus residents who encompass Baltimore County regardless of their legal status despite the bill failing.
“This is a bad piece of legislation,” Almond said. “It separates us. It divides us. I am always, always preaching that we should celebrate our diversity.”