Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Legislation would ban Takoma Park sanctuary policies

Failure to comply could reduce state aid to city's police

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ANNAPOLIS — Some lawmakers want to withhold state aid from local governments that have sanctuary policies prohibiting employees and police officers from asking someone’s immigration status.

Del. Warren E. Miller introduced a bill to ban sanctuary policies and require ‘‘local governments to fully comply with and support federal immigration law.”

Non-compliance could result in loss of some state aid for policing.

The bill is ‘‘an attempt to de-incentivize illegal immigration,” said Miller (R-Dist. 9A) of Woodbine.

Takoma Park and Baltimore have sanctuary policies in place, according to the Department of Legislative Services, which said Maryland law does not require county and municipal governments to assist the federal government with immigration enforcement.

Two states, Alaska and Oregon, and some major cities — including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston — have sanctuary policies, DLS says.

In a heated House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, opponents of the bill said forcing local governments to uphold complex federal laws is unrealistic and costly, and can discourage victims and witnesses from reporting crimes or getting medical care.

Supporters said illegal immigration is a serious crime that should not be condoned.

‘‘Sanctuary policies cause a host of financial, legal and criminal problems and negatively affect the quality of life for Marylanders,” said Brad Botwin, director of Help Save Maryland, a group whose goal is to eliminate the use of tax dollars for illegal immigrants.

He said illegal immigrants contribute to crowding in schools, depress wages and increase crime rates.

Officials from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, as well as Baltimore city and Takoma Park, submitted testimony against the bill.

‘‘It is not the role of a local police force to enforce federal immigration law,” Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams said. ‘‘As a small community with a small tax base, that added responsibility is a burden we can’t afford.”

He said 30 percent of the city’s 18,000 residents are foreign-born and that most came to the United States legally.

‘‘We cannot tell, by color or language or income, who is in the United States legally and who is not,” Williams said.

Casa of Maryland, an immigrants advocacy group, said the anti-sanctuary bill has no exception for victims or witnesses of crime, and puts employees at risk for lawsuits if they violate an individual’s civil rights during questioning.

‘‘There is no easy way to determine someone’s lawful status,” said Jessica Salsbury, a staff attorney for Casa. ‘‘Although these bills require local governments to respect civil rights laws, these bills — in essence — require racial profiling.”

But supporters said the civil rights of U.S. citizens have to be considered as well.

‘‘Where is the justice in allowing illegal immigrants to access our community services and infrastructure that tax-paying citizens have made available?” said Carroll County Commissioner Michael D. Zimmer, in written statements submitted to the committee.

Taneytown, in Carroll County, considered an initiative earlier this year to declare itself a non-sanctuary city. It was defeated.

Illegal immigration is costly for county governments, said Zimmer (R) of Eldersburg. ‘‘The time for firm action is now.”