Legislation Banning Jails From Housing ICE Detainees Advances

Legislation Banning Jails From Housing ICE Detainees Advances
Del. Wayne Hartman is pictured testifying against the state legislation on the House floor. File Photo

SNOW HILL – Local officials continue to oppose state legislation that would prohibit the county jail from working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The “Dignity Not Detention Act,” which will ban local jails like the one in Worcester County from housing detainees for ICE, passed the House of Delegates with an 86-44 vote in March. Local officials continue to oppose the bill as it moves toward consideration in the Senate.

“I am strongly opposed to any and all legislation that jeopardizes public safety and paves the way for Maryland to become a sanctuary state, including the bill that would end contracts with federal immigration authorities,” Senator Mary Beth Carozza said.

Worcester County has been housing up to 200 immigration-related detainees through a contract with ICE since 1999. The county’s jail was even expanded in 2011 to increase capacity in part to provide more space for Ice detainees. Revenue from the ICE agreement provided the jail with $5.1 million of its $9.2 million budget in fiscal year 2019.

The legislation moving forward now—House Bill 16 and Senate Bill 478—would prohibit governmental entities in Maryland, including Worcester County, from housing ICE detainees as of October 2022. Proponents of the legislation question ICE practices and argue that local jails shouldn’t be profiting from immigration enforcement.

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The Worcester County Commissioners wrote a letter of opposition to the bills in February and asked the Eastern Shore Delegation not to support the legislation.

“Worcester County and the Worcester County taxpayers are going to be impacted negatively,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “I find that egregious.”

He said the financial impact would be substantial and could impact jobs at the jail.

“I guess that’s what happens when you have a change in political philosophy and don’t hold criminals accountable,” he said.

Delegate Wayne Hartman voiced opposition to the bill when it was debated within the House of Delegates. He stressed that the ICE detainees were serious offenders, people who had committed major crimes. He said that ICE paid the three counties that held detainees—Worcester, Frederick and Howard—about $7.8 million.

“If I tried to get a bill passed with a $7.8 million fiscal note, it’s not easy,” he said. “It doesn’t happen. And here we are pushing aside $7.8 million.”

Carozza said she shared the concerns of Worcester County’s leaders, noting that the legislation reduces the autonomy of local detention facilities and limits their ability to function in a safe manner. She also brought up the financial impact of the legislation.

“Making Maryland a sanctuary state would threaten public safety and put Maryland and Worcester County at risk of losing millions of federal dollars,” Carozza said. “I will continue to oppose all efforts to make Maryland a sanctuary state.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.