Maryland Governor Vetoes Immigration Bill in Strongly Worded Letter

Hogan ‘steadfast’ in opposition to becoming ‘a sanctuary state’

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 4, 2021

On May 26, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued a strongly worded letter vetoing House Bill (HB) 16, the “Dignity Not Detention Act”. He made several good points therein, and struck a blow to protect the residents of his state, but omitted a big point that the bill's sponsors apparently overlooked. Those sponsors may want to talk to their constituents and consider the full effects of that bill before moving forward.

If that legislation sounds familiar, it is because I analyzed it in a May 13 post captioned “Maryland’s ‘Dignity Not Detention Act’ Will Deliver Neither: Localities lose money, alien detainees lose family support, and the public will be less safe”.

Briefly, HB 16 would have prohibited local jurisdictions and the state from entering into and renewing ICE detention agreements, prohibited state and local law enforcement from inquiring into the immigration status of suspected illegal aliens, and limited transfers of state and local criminals to ICE.

In his veto letter, Hogan echoed many of the same concerns that I had with the bill. Curiously, though, the rather mild-mannered governor in places used some more critical language than even I did.

For example, he laid down a rather stern marker on this and any similar legislation. He asserted that HB 16 “reflects the hasty nature under which it passed without proper debate and discussion, and is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem”.

While I did not follow the legislative proceedings on this bill in my erstwhile home state, and therefore cannot comment on the first part, as both Hogan and I noted immigration detention is not really that big of an issue in Maryland.

Only three of the state’s 24 local jurisdictions — Howard, Worcester, and Frederick counties — have contracts with ICE to detain aliens, and Howard County’s expired on May 18. The state runs its own detention and incarceration facilities, but doesn’t have an immigration detention agreement with ICE.

And, as I also explained, Hogan noted that:

By banning these local agreements, it creates an unfortunate and likely scenario where immigrants who are detained will be sent to other facilities, presumably out of state, separating them from their families and making it harder to stay connected to their community.

I will return to that one below, but before I do, there were two major points that the governor made with particular gusto that I would personally second.

First, he asserted that he remained “steadfast” in his “opposition to any legislative or regulatory efforts that would hinder cooperation with federal law enforcement and make Maryland a sanctuary state”.

Noting that it was “neither the state’s, nor the legislature’s, place to decide whether to comply with federal law and regulations”, Hogan warned that “[f]lawed legislation” like HB 16 “sets a dangerous precedent regarding the state’s commitment to upholding the law and ensuring the safety of our citizens.”

That impeding enforcement of the immigration laws — particularly against criminal aliens — endangers public safety generally should be so logical as to be banal. In making these points, however, Hogan was using cool logic against heated sanctimony — dangerous territory for any politician, but especially so for a Republican in the reflexively Democratic Free State.

Of course, the governor is term-limited from running again, so perhaps he is just feeling his oats. If he has many more forays into reason and temperance, however, Hogan may find a ground-swell to run against Maryland’s junior senator, Chris Van Hollen (D), who is up for reelection when the governor finishes his term in 2022.

Second, however, Hogan pulled no punches in his opposition to the section of HB 16 prohibiting Maryland law enforcement officers from asking about immigration status “during a stop, search, or an arrest”.

The governor explained that:

Most troubling is the portion of the bill that would limit which questions law enforcement officials are allowed to ask during routine encounters. While law enforcement officials do not inquire about immigration status, citizenship status, or place of birth during a stop or search, they may have reason to do so during an arrest. We need to make sure that our law enforcement officers have every tool at their disposal in order to keep our citizens safe and protect them from felons, terrorists, repeat violent offenders, domestic abusers, and sexual predators, regardless of immigration status.

With due respect to the bill’s sponsors and proponents, Hogan’s reasoning is so obvious as to need no comment, but it is so effective as to merit special notice.

Opponents of immigration enforcement regularly harken back to images of families torn apart by ICE arrests and the agency’s “target[ing of] people at sensitive locations like hospitals and schools” (actually, I took those examples from the president’s immigration campaign website) that the public often misses the point that ICE almost exclusively goes after criminal aliens.

For example, at the “height” (in quotation marks for good reason, as I have explained elsewhere) of its interior enforcement efforts under President Trump in FY 2018 (when ICE arrested fewer than 159,000 aliens), 66 percent of those whom the agency apprehended had criminal convictions, and an additional 21 percent had pending criminal charges at the time ICE took them into custody.

That included 3,740 aliens convicted of sexual assault, 9,834 convicted of burglary, and 1,641 with homicide convictions. Sanctuary jurisdictions protect those criminals from ICE, but why?

Worse, however, the offending provision in HB 16 would cut off lines of questioning by Maryland cops that would enable them to get those criminals not just out of the community, but out of the country.

Hogan’s statement flips the script on sanctuary proponents by implicitly requiring them to explain themselves. That will not be an easy task, given the fact that the state’s largest city, Baltimore, is ranked as the 23rd most dangerous city in the world. Look it up.

When migrants are flocking to the United States from the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador and the Honduran hotspot of San Pedro Sula, and you are the head of a state whose most populous metropolis is more dangerous than either, you may not be able to make things better, but you sure don’t want to make things worse. So Hogan vetoed HB 16.

Here is the one logical conclusion in HB 16 that the governor missed in his veto letter, though, that actually makes things worse for aliens.

Yes, in preventing aliens from being detained in Maryland’s jails, that bill would probably take them from their families and communities. If ICE under the Biden administration is detaining any alien in any given place, the agency is probably just going to send them elsewhere when there is no detention space in Maryland.

That someplace is likely going to be in a more conservative jurisdiction, whose leaders have no compunction whatsoever about immigration detention.

In removal proceedings, aliens can file a petition for review of any administrative order with the circuit court where the immigration judge (IJ) completed the proceedings. Consequently, IJs are supposed to follow that circuit’s laws in their decisions.

In Maryland, that is the Fourth Circuit, which has some pretty alien-friendly legal interpretations (just read the court’s decision in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump or my synopsis here). So if a detained alien’s case is heard by an IJ in the Baltimore Immigration Court (as these detainees would), they would get to take advantage of Fourth Circuit precedent.

If they get shipped off to Texas or Louisiana, though, they will be proceeding under the laws of the Fifth Circuit. You can take my word for it — they will likely find that the law there is not quite as favorable as it is in the Fourth Circuit.

That said, however, and regardless of which circuits have precedents that are more beneficial to an individual alien’s case, were HB 16 allowed to stand, the legislators in Annapolis would be affecting an actual alien respondent’s immigration case.

That is a problem because immigration is a federal issue, and not one that state representatives should be messing around in — especially when they don’t understand the full ramifications of their actions.

HB 16 passed the state legislature with enough votes to override Hogan’s veto, but the legislature is in recess until January. Before they return to Annapolis in the winter, delegates and senators may want to chew over Hogan’s letter, talk to the folks back home, and think through all of the effects of that bill.