Howard County ‘welcoming’ with immigration policy

WASHINGTON — Howard County is making its stance on immigration enforcement very clear.

The county police department put out a policy Friday that clarifies directives already in place so the public can understand what officers will and will not do.

The county says it will help ease fears and concerns over immigration related issues.

“We know this has been an issue of concern for some in our community,” said Police Chief Gary Gardner. “We want to do everything we can to reassure people in Howard County that our police department does not enforce civil violations of federal immigration laws.”

The policy states that Howard County police officers shall not ask about a person’s immigration status, unless that person is already being investigated for a crime like human trafficking, terrorist activity or gang violence.

Criminal investigations cannot be started because of a person’s immigration status.

The police department will also not refer people who have entered the country illegally to Immigration-Customs Enforcement since it says it does not have that legal authority. The department says its officers may be assigned to federal task forces, but none that involves federal civil immigration enforcement.

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“I’ve had many conversations with Chief Gardner and other HCPD personnel and I was confident that a clear, fair and reasonable policy would emerge,” said Howard County Council chairman Jon Weinstein. “Constructive dialogue with people representing Howard County’s diverse community (has) contributed to defining this policy. We now have a collaborative policy that reflects the values of our community and reaffirms our commitment to assuring that Howard County is a welcoming and safe community for all of its residents.”

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said this policy helps make it clear that his county is welcoming to everyone.

“This review and subsequent written policy once again shows our police department’s continued commitment to protect all who live in, work in and visit Howard County,” said Kittleman. “I appreciate the steps our police took by communicating our existing practices with the community and, with the community’s input, turn those practices into a written policy that can be shared with our residents. We want everyone to know that our police are here to protect everyone who calls Howard County home.”

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