An Illogical Response to Local Immigration Detention

NIMBYism at its worst — out of sight, out of mind

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 11, 2019

My former home state of Maryland is an endless source of inspiration. Montgomery County, Baltimore County, Prince George's County, Frederick County, and Baltimore City have all provided grist for my mill. Howard County, a Baltimore-Washington bedroom community is the latest, this time because of a protest against the leasing of space in the local jail to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for detention of alien respondents. This incident again reveals the shortsightedness of open-borders proponents, and the worst sort of sanctimony.

Patch, a local news service, reported that on December 9, 2019, a variety of local groups were to gather "at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center at 7246 Cradlerock Way to urge county officials to stop renting beds in the Howard County Detention Center to ICE." As the outlet explained:

During the meeting, coalition members will call on Howard County to "stop profiting off of the cruel and inhumane treatment of people put in ICE custody and demand that the county cancel its intergovernmental service agreement with ICE at once."

Some background is in order. Howard County (HOCO to the locals) is a unique place. When I was a boy, it was mostly farmland, and the county seal reflects this, with a shock of wheat, tobacco, and a plow in front of rolling hills. That has largely changed, at least in the eastern part of the county.

This change began in 1966, when developer James Rouse planned a new town near Routes 29 and 32, called "Columbia" (currently the location of the Owen Brown Interfaith Center). It has grown ever since.

As Smithsonian Magazine described Rouse's vision in 2014:

He believed that we demanded too little of ourselves and our cities. He believed that the city could be better, that we could be better. Rouse believed that cities are just too big and their impossible scale alienates us from one another, fostering an apathy and loneliness. In Rouse's view, we're at our best in smaller communities where there is a sense of responsibility to one's city and to one's neighbor. He imagined a beautiful, self-sustaining American City — a new America, really — that fostered economic, racial, and cultural harmony.

The town is now a city, but has developed more or less according to Rouse's philosophy, with a mix of apartments, condominiums, single-family homes, and row houses, each in its own preplanned neighborhood of preplanned streets with preplanned names (such as "King's Contrivance", "Harper's Choice", and "Dorsey's Search"). Some have started to show their age (early 1970s architecture leaves something to be desired), but the area has benefitted significantly from its proximity on major arteries to D.C. and Baltimore, as USA Today has explained:

Howard County, Maryland, is one of the wealthiest counties nationwide, with the typical household earning more than $115,000 per year. Residents are also among the least likely to face poverty, as just 5.2 percent live below the poverty line. Nationwide, 14.6 percent of Americans live in poverty.

The area's high incomes are partially attributable to high educational attainment. Howard is one of just seven counties nationwide in which at least 60 percent of adults have a four-year college degree. This means that residents are more likely to be qualified for high-paying careers. The county is within commuting distance of both Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, and most working residents commute to jobs outside of Howard County. [Emphasis added.]

In fact, Forbes has stated it is the fourth richest county in America.

HOCO is liberal (many cars speeding by on Broken Land Parkway sport a "Choose Civility Howard County, MD" magnet, the most passive-aggressive virtue signaling I can imagine), but actually less liberal than Maryland as a whole. Keep in mind that this is a matter of degree, as Maryland is the second most Democratic state in the Union, but is likely reflective of the still rural nature of the western part of the county. The county government does not assist in ICE enforcement, but its detention contract with ICE has generated more than $14 million since 2013, according to the Baltimore Sun.

That said, HOCO makes it clear that: "It is the policy of the Howard County Department of Corrections to only accept detainees from ICE who are criminally involved." Included are:

  1. Those convicted of crimes.
  2. Those charged with jailable offenses.
  3. Those who are members of criminal gangs.
  4. Those who are deported criminal felons who have illegally reentered the U.S.

Who says you can't have it both ways? In essence, however, HOCO only detains for ICE's cash the sorts of people that a place like Columbia would not want on its streets.

Those respondents have to go somewhere, however. I have discussed this point previously, in a post tersely captioned "When States and Localities Bar ICE Detention, Aliens Are Detained Elsewhere".

Logically, the individuals detained at the Howard County Detention Center by ICE are mostly aliens who were apprehended somewhere in the general vicinity. Would the gatherees at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center prefer that those respondents be transported further away from whatever family, and counsel, they have? ICE has a detention center in Worcester County, on the Eastern Shore, about 2.5 hours away (or worse, with traffic) from the Howard County Detention Center. What possible good would be served by transferring them there?

Here is your answer: none. The only thing such a transfer would do is serve as balm to soothe the conscience of the good burghers of HOCO, and (to some degree) stick it to the administration. It is the worst sort of NIMBYism, the attitude that civic nuisances not be placed "in my backyard". Unless they are deluded, they must realize that the detention by ICE of criminal aliens is going to occur somewhere — they just want to wash their hands of responsibility. The fact that there may be costs to the aliens themselves is simply "collateral damage" to the assuaging of their troubled dispositions at the thought that immigration detention would be occurring near them (while lining their county's pockets).

As for "the cruel and inhumane treatment of people put in ICE custody", if that is occurring at the Howard County Detention Center to alien respondents, such treatment must also be inflicted on the other, criminal detainees therein. That did not appear to be on the agenda at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center on December 9, so either the participants believe that ICE detention generally is "cruel and inhumane" (which has not been my experience), or they don't care about the conditions under which criminals are detained.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) personally participated in the demolition of the Baltimore City Detention Center (which he called "a disaster of a facility and an embarrassment to the state"), so he would probably be interested if prisoners were being mistreated in HOCO as a matter of course. That likely is not the problem.

And I can guarantee you that the conditions under which ICE detainees are currently held is no different (and likely better) than the conditions under which INS detainees were held during the, say, Clinton administration, if only because the media is largely on the lookout for a stick with which to beat Donald Trump and his immigration policies.

More likely, the December 9 coordinators were simply engaging in bloviation to, you know, stick it to the administration. If true, they are really just passing the buck, and in the process, harming those they purport to care the most about. But out of sight, out of mind.