Howard County debates becoming ‘sanctuary’ county for immigrants

WASHINGTON — Despite an executive order signed by President Donald Trump that threatens to pull federal funding from local governments that protect undocumented immigrants, Howard County in Maryland is set to make a controversial move related to the matter Monday.

The Howard County Council plans to vote on whether to label the county a “sanctuary” jurisdiction that promises to shield and protect undocumented immigrants from federal law.

According to Trump’s executive order, signed Jan. 25, sanctuary jurisdictions will lose federal grants.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States,” the order states. “These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.”

However, supporters of the Howard County measure are still moving forward.

“Undocumented presence in the United States is a civil violation, not a criminal offense,” said supporter Marcia White with the Howard County Democratic Central Committee.

“Law abiding, undocumented immigrants are not criminals,” White said at a public hearing last month. “To treat them as criminals because they are undocumented is both legally and morally wrong.”

Those who support the measure also say it will make undocumented immigrants more likely to cooperate with police investigations if they are not afraid of being punished for their immigration status.

The county’s police chief, meanwhile, is opposed to the idea.

“Passing this practice into law may come with some unknown and unintended consequences,” said Police Chief Gary Gardner.

During last month’s hearing, Gardner said he is worried the measure could hurt the relationship between his department and federal authorities.

“Addressing crime in Howard County requires strong partnerships and uninterrupted cooperation with all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. This bill could tie our hands in some of those efforts,” Gardner said.

Under the measure, county employees, including police officers, are instructed not to question people about their immigration status. They are also told they cannot communicate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in an effort to seek information about someone’s status.

It is not clear if the measure has enough votes to pass. But if it does, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman has said he plans to veto it.

In a statement, Kittleman called the bill “a hollow political statement that provides a false sense of security, compromises our ability to keep our community safe, and could jeopardize federal funding for critical programs and services.”

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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