Maryland’s Howard County Executive Vetoes Bill to Cancel ICE Contract
FAIR Take | October 2020
Since 1995, Howard County, Maryland has contracted with federal immigration authorities to house suspected illegal aliens in its jail while they go through the deportation process. Open-borders groups protested the contract and pressured the Howard County Council to end it. Councilmember Liz Walsh (D) introduced Council Bill (CB) 51-2020 on September 8 that ended the ICE contract and, on October 5, the County Council passed it by a vote of 3 to 2. It was vetoed by the County Executive on October 7.
In addition to ICE, Howard County also contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service to house suspects awaiting trial on federal criminal charges. The County did not seek to end that contract. Rather, the bill’s sole intent was to undermine immigration enforcement in Howard County.
Before the bill was taken up for a final vote, Councilmember David Yungmann (R) spoke out in opposition, noting that the ICE contract brings in almost $2 million in federal funds to the county annually. He noted that the county relies on this revenue stream, adding “[w]e struggle to fund our school system, we need infrastructure built … It pays for teachers, paraeducators, rent for folks that need help with housing.”
Councilmember Opel Jones (D) also opposed the bill because he believed if the contract was ended, immigration detainees would simply be transferred to other facilities, likely further from their families and access to their attorneys.
FAIR submitted written testimony opposing the bill saying that Howard County Detention Center officers should be able to cooperate with all local, state and federal law enforcement officials.
Even before the council vote, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) indicated he would veto the bill. Ball believes his new detention “policy,” effective September 24, strikes an adequate middle ground without the county losing the federal funds from the contract. Under his policy, the county will only accept and house immigration detainees who have previously been convicted of a “crime of violence.”
The vetoed bill will return to the council, where under the county charter, a two-thirds supermajority vote would be required to override Ball's veto, meaning either Jones or Yungmann would have to be convinced to change their original “no” vote and support the bill.