Maryland anti-detention law no favor to immigrants

Democratic congressmen in the Maryland State legislature have succeeded in passing the Dignity Not Detention Act, (HB 16), without a single Republican vote; what’s more, they succeeded in overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the bill. Should they celebrate these victories?

HB 16 prohibits State and local jurisdictions from entering into agreements facilitating immigration-related detention by private entities; from approving a zoning variance or permit for the construction or reuse of buildings that will be used by private entities as an immigration detention facility without first notifying the public and holding public meetings for comment; and from entering into or renewing an immigration detention agreement.

It also prohibits State and local law enforcement agents from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status during the performance of regular police functions, and it requires counties that have detention agreements to terminate them no later than Oct. 1, 2022.

HB 16 supporters claim that it is one of the most significant pieces of immigration reform since the enactment of the Maryland Dream Act, which made in-state tuition grants available to undocumented immigrants.

HB 16’s sponsor, Del. Vaughn Stewart, said, “By … overriding the governor’s veto on this, Maryland will send an extremely strong message that we are better than ICE, we are better than this depravity, we are better than for-profit family separation and we stand for the dignity for every single Marylander in this state.”

According to Gustavo Torres, the executive director of CASA, an immigrant advocacy organization, “Maryland has already decided to protect black and brown immigrant families by overwhelmingly passing” HB 16; he also accused Hogan of being “well-known for his xenophobic policies.”

Cathryn Paul, manager of government relations and public policy for CASA said, “It’s a major step forward in making Maryland a safer place for immigrants and a place that treats immigrants with dignity.”

William C. Smith Jr., chair of the Judicial Proceedings Commission, said, “This bill gets us out of the business of profiting off of family separation.”

Del. David Moon added that the state would no longer allow “its counties to have for-profit family separations to balance budgets.”

The problem? 

As Gov. Hogan explained when he vetoed the law, Maryland has zero private prison facilities, and it has absolutely no intention of initiating any plans to allow such facilities.

The law’s a solution in search of a problem.

The law requires the termination of all immigration detention agreements with local jurisdictions — but, as Hogan noted, the state’s correctional and detention facilities do not engage in these agreements, and only three out of Maryland’s 23 counties have them.

The immigrants currently detained in those counties will be sent to facilities in other states, separating them from their families and making it harder for them to stay connected to their community.

I agree with former immigration judge Andrew R. Arthur that this Maryland law will not help any immigration detainees — and will hurt quite a few of them.

Oddly enough, HB 16 actually invites private prisons, Hogan noted, by permitting a private company to build or acquire a new facility for the purpose of immigration detention, so long as appropriate community input is solicited.

Lastly, although police officers ordinarily do not inquire about immigration or citizenship status during a stop or search, they may have reason to do so during an arrest.

The Maryland legislature overturned Hogan’s veto on a largely party-line vote on Dec. 6.

The claims of the people who support the bill make no sense to me.

Immigrant detention is not punishment. With the exception of mandatory detention, the objective of detention is to ensure that apparently deportable immigrants will appear at their hearings and leave the United States if they are ordered to be removed. The law permits detained aliens who are not subject to mandatory detention to request release on bond or personal recognizance.

ICE records show that 23.6 percent of migrant families and 18.3 percent of adults who were released from custody last fiscal year have either absconded or failed to comply with the terms of their release.

Detention decisions are not racist, xenophobic, or designed to separate families. They implement statutory provisions that were written and passed by our elected representatives in Congress.

If immigrants being held at Maryland detention centers aren’t being treated properly, it would make more sense to deal with the mistreatment than to force ICE to move them to detention centers in other states. There is no reason to think that they will receive better treatment in some other state — and it will be more difficult for family and friends in Maryland to monitor their treatment.

When detention centers were closed in New Jersey, ICE transferred the detainees to other detention facilities in states such as Louisiana, Georgia, and New York.

U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez told an ACLU lawyer who had tried unsuccessfully to stop ICE from transferring the immigrants out of New Jersey, “It just seems as though this was not well thought out on behalf of the advocacy groups.”

Maryland and New Jersey aren’t the only states that are refusing to provide immigration detention facilities. California, Washington, Nevada, and Illinois all have passed laws that limit or bar immigration detention.

If this trend continues, it will hurt progressively more detainees without helping any of them.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow his blog at

Tags Detention centers Immigration Immigration detention Immigration law Larry Hogan Maryland Private prison

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