SNOW HILL – Worcester County could lose more than $5 million a year if a bill prohibiting Maryland counties from participating in immigration detention is passed.
House Bill 677, introduced Jan. 30, would prohibit counties from contracting with the federal government or any other entity to take in immigration detainees. Worcester County currently brings in more than $5 million a year by housing detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“It’s something we’re looking at very seriously,” said Commissioner Joe Mitrecic. “There’s a lot of ramifications to this.”
The commissioners agreed this week to send the Eastern Shore Delegation a letter expressing their opposition to the bill, which was introduced Jan. 30 by Montgomery County Del. Vaughn Stewart. The bill states that the enforcement of civil immigration laws is the exclusive responsibility of the federal government.
“Given implications on foreign relations, immigration enforcement and detention are inappropriate exercises of a state’s police powers,” the bill reads. “Issues of liability, accountability, and cost warrant a prohibition on the ownership, operation or management of detention facilities by private contractors, as well as a phasing out of the involvement of state and local officials in civil immigration detention to the fullest extent permitted under state law.”
While a similar bill failed last year, Mitrecic is concerned that with new leadership in place it could pass this year.
“I can only speak for myself but I’m not in favor of Maryland becoming a sanctuary state and that’s what this is moving us toward,” he said.
Commissioner Chip Bertino said there were various reasons for Worcester County’s strident opposition to the bill.
“My feeling is this goes right to the heart of autonomy for the counties,” he said.
He added that for Worcester there was also a huge financial impact to consider. The county receives $87.11 per ICE inmate per day. As of Monday, he said the Worcester County Jail housed 119 ICE detainees.
“That would be a big hit to the budget,” Bertino said. “Worcester County needs to protect its revenue source.”
In Maryland, three counties — Worcester, Frederick and Howard — have agreements to house detainees for ICE.