By Barbara Pash
Three bills that would crack down on illegal immigrants were hailed by supporters, who called the immigrants a public safety issue, and condemned by opponents, who said the bills raise constitutional concerns.
“We need to get serious about criminals and gangs,” Del. Pat McDonough told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
McDonough, a Republican from Baltimore and Harford counties, and 10 other mostly Republican delegates are sponsoring the measures which the committee killed last year.
According to McDonough, 80% of the drugs coming into the state are from crime syndicates with names like MS13, Latin Kings, and the Mexican Mafia, as well as Russian gangs. After Virginia launched a crackdown on such gangs, “Virginia issued a report that the crime syndicates are coming to Maryland,” McDonough said.
According to recent surveys, an estimated 250,000 illegal immigrants lived in the state in 2009, about 4.5 % of the state’s population.
HB 239 would require Corrections and Parole and Probation to forward information about a prisoner’s immigration status to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
HB 276 would require state law enforcement agencies to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the federal government about enforcing federal immigration laws.
Federal immigration law encourages local agencies to help enforce federal laws, but it is not a requirement. Currently, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office is the only law enforcement agency in the state that does.
The federal government would pay for the training needed to implement this measure on a local level, McDonough said. However, the Department of Legislative Services estimated the first-year cost for the Maryland State Police alone would be about $842,000.
HB 342 would prohibit a judge or district court commissioner from allowing defendants who cannot prove they are legally in the United States to be let out of jail on bail before trial.
Groups opposed to illegal aliens supported McDonough’s bills.
Michael Cutler, a former agent with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and current fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, said that the primary victims of illegal immigrant criminals are members of their own ethnic groups.
“Most arrests are by local police, not federal officers,” Cutler said, underscoring the importance of the bill requiring local law enforcement agencies to also enforce federal immigration law.
Opponents of the bills were as vociferous as the supporters. Christopher Flohr, a Severna Park attorney, said the committee was being “misled” and “misguided” about the costs of the bill in real terms. He spoke specifically about the state court system, which is already overloaded. To require everyone who deals with the court to also provide documentation of their citizenship status could push it to the breaking point, he said.
“That’s why you have the federal court,” said Flohr.
In written testimony, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland also opposed the bills, calling them “impractical and unconstitutional” as well as “bad public policy” that “raises constitutional concerns.”
McDonough also came under tough questioning by members of the committee. Del. Neil Parrott, a Republican from Washington County who co-sponsored one of the bills, asked how much these initiatives would cost. McDonough said that “the money saved on crime would offset whatever the cost.”
Del. Luiz Simmons, a Democrat from Montgomery County, asked why the Frederick County Sheriff was the only agency in the state participating in the federal enforcement program. McDonough spoke of “political decisions,” as well as a lack of awareness among some local enforcement agencies.