Md. lawmakers push prison immigration bill

The driver in the crash that killed Sander Cohen and Carlos Wolff in Dec. 2017 has been charged with a traffic offense. (Composite/Courtesy Pete Piringer/Wolff family)
A Maryland lawmaker says it’s time to require every state and local jail to hand over immigrants who are in the country illegally to federal officials.

Maryland Delegate Kathy Szeliga, a Republican whose district includes Harford and Baltimore counties, wants her colleagues to pass House Bill 817. She calls it a very simple bill.

“The bill simply says that, if asked, local law enforcement will turn a criminal alien over to Homeland Security,” Szeliga said.

Szeliga held a news conference in Annapolis with the family members of two men who were killed in a crash on I-270 in Dec. 2017. FBI agent Carlos Wolff was killed along with arson investigator Sander Cohen when a car driven by 28-year-old Roberto Garza Palacios, a Guatemalan immigrant in the country illegally, struck and killed them both.

Garza Palacios had previous criminal convictions in the county, and at one point, ICE asked officials with the Montgomery County jail to put a hold on him. That request was not honored.

Garza Palacios was charged with negligent driving and fined $280 in the case that ended the lives of Wolff and Cohen. In order to receive a tougher penalty, his actions would have had to include “gross deviation” from responsible driving or show a “reckless disregard” for human life. Police said at the time that there was no indication that anyone involved in the crash had been drinking.

Wolff and Cohen were struck after Wolff’s car stuck a concrete median after he lost control of his vehicle while reaching for a cellphone. Cohen had stopped to offer help. They were outside of their vehicles when they were hit.

Wolff’s widow, Marla, called the loss of her husband “a nightmare” and said she tells friends, “I’m actually more angry that our laws allowed him to be on the road — that our laws allowed him to be in the public.”

Cohen’s mother, Arlene Cohen, told reporters on Tuesday: “The way I see it, illegal means illegal.” She said Garza Palacios has an immigration hearing later this month, and told reporters, “He and others that don’t follow the law should be turned over to Homeland Security immediately.”

Szeliga is hopeful about the prospects for House Bill 817.

“We’re grateful that Harford County, Frederick County and Cecil County are already doing this, and we think that it should be done across the state,” said Szeliga.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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