Baltimore, MD- Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced this week that a Baltimore state jail will no longer honor immigration detainers issued by federal agencies if it requires holding their beyond their release dates in a move to shield non-criminal offenders from deportation.
Governor O’Malley has instructed the Baltimore Detention Center to consider the severity of an individual’s charges when considering whether to hold then on detainer while waiting for USCIS to pick up the detainee flagged by a program called Secure Communities.
“We will focus our efforts on complying with ICE detainers when there is an actual threat to the public’s safety,” the governor said, according to the Baltimore Sun. “No family should be ripped apart because the Republican Congress can’t come to the table and reach a reasonable compromise on comprehensive immigration reform.”
Under the new policy, immigrants will only be held for USCIS if they have been convicted of a felony, three misdemeanors or a single “serious” misdemeanor. Holds will not be honored for individuals who have violated immigration laws—violations of immigration laws are considered civil matters and are not viewed as actual crimes.
Governor O’Malley sent a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson of the policy change, noting that “a greater percentage of non-criminal immigrants are deported from Maryland than other states.”
This recent move on the part of Gov. O’Malley has been praised by activists who say too many immigrants with no criminal records are being flagged by the Secure Communities program. They claim that families and communities are torn apart for minor offenses such as driving without a license.
Secure Communities allows immigration agents to check the fingerprints of anyone who has been arrested in any state, regardless of the seriousness of their crime. Fingerprints are compared with a federal database of immigrants known to be in the country without legal authorization. Once a match is made, the USCIS can request the immigrant be detained 48 hours beyond their release time giving immigration agents time to pick the immigrants up for deportation proceedings.
Even though the decision was praised by immigration advocates, others are critical of the move, accusing the governor of putting immigrants who broke the law above the safety of the communities where they live.
O’Malley has passed other laws to help undocumented immigrants throughout the state including a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition, as well as allowing immigrants to obtain a driver’s license and state IDs.
All other Maryland counties will honor USCIS detainers.
Previously, California, Connecticut and Washington D.C. introduced similar policies by refusing to comply with all immigration detainer requests.
Gov. O’Malley’s new policy comes at a time when immigration activists have been highly critical of the Obama Administration for deporting record number of immigrants. They have repeatedly asked he use executive orders to give non-criminal offenders relief from deportation. Though a review of DHS deportation policies is underway, activists say that thousands of people are being deported every day and want the president to act more quickly