By AUDREY DECKER
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau
A bill that would prohibit law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status and end police cooperation with ICE in Maryland drew emotional testimony from immigrants, advocacy groups and lawmakers on Wednesday.
Referred to as the Trust Act by some, SB0088 and HB0304 would end the federal 287(g) Criminal Alien Program in participating jurisdictions, prevent law enforcement from asking about immigration status and protect immigrants from ICE in sensitive locations, such as schools, courthouses and hospitals.
The 287(g) Criminal Alien Program allows ICE to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement to deputize officers as federal immigration agents.
This bill, which would end those agreements in Maryland, is extremely important to build trust between the police and community. Immigrants shouldn’t be afraid to report a crime, said Del. Wanika Fisher, D-Prince George’s, a sponsor of the bill.
“When one community doesn’t feel safe with law enforcement and participating, it affects everyone,” Fisher said.
Three Maryland jurisdictions participate in the 287(g) program: Cecil, Frederick and Harford counties.
These jurisdictions argue that this bill poses a threat to public safety. Asking for someone’s location of birth is a routine part of processing information, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, R, said.
“Part of public safety is identifying who you’re bringing into custody and whether other jurisdictions want them and what kind of criminal history they have,” Gahler said in an interview with Capital News Service.
There’s no reason law enforcement officers shouldn’t be allowed to notify ICE if someone is here illegally, Gahler said.
People call it the Trust Act for a reason, said Cathryn Paul, research and policy analyst at CASA, the largest immigrant services and advocacy organization in Maryland. Immigrant families do not trust the police or the government, Paul said.
The 287(g) program allows local officers to turn into ICE agents when they have minimal training, almost no oversight or accountability and many aren’t bilingual, Paul said.
“The police should not be playing ICE. The police should not be acting as ICE agents in any way,” Paul said.
Policies like this will lower crime rates because it establishes trust and encourages immigrants to report crimes, Paul said. Immigrants have been keeping the country afloat during the pandemic; lawmakers must take action to support them, Paul said.
However, Richard Jurgena, a retired Navy officer and resident of Darnestown, Maryland, said in his written testimony last year that the Constitution is the law of the land. He pointed to the bill’s fiscal and policy note under “Current Law” that begins with “While immigration is controlled by federal law,” to prove that immigration cannot be separated from the federal government.
The law is the law, those opposed to the bill have said.
Much of the testimony, however, argued that undocumented immigrants are anything but criminals.
Maria Perez was placed in handcuffs in Prince George’s County in May of 2018 after she was stopped for speeding by police and handed over to an immigration agent, treated like she had committed a criminal act, she said. She testified in Spanish, with her written testimony in English on the screen.
On March 18, Perez has a court date, which will determine whether she can stay in this country with her children or would be deported back to El Salvador where she fled from 16 years ago.
A 15-year-old boy, Yovani Isaula, testified that his mother, Nora Argueta, was deported after a Maryland state trooper detained her on the highway when her car broke down on a highway in Baltimore in January of 2019.
Isaula was confused about what was happening because he thought police officers were there to help, but rather they detained his mother and he had to learn how to take care of himself, he said.
“We need to repair the relationship between the community and the police because so many deportations caused by the police have caused us to lose our trust in them,” Perez said.