By Uma Ribeiro
The Howard County Council voted on Council Bill Number 51 (CB-51), introduced by councilmember Liz Walsh, on Monday, October 5. The bill prohibits “…the Howard County Department of Corrections from accepting into its custody persons detained by federal immigration law enforcement agencies and housing those persons as they await disposition of exclusively immigration-related proceedings.” In other words, it called for the end of a contract between the county and the federal agency that allows ICE to hold immigrant detainees in the county’s Jessup detention center.
The bill was written by the District One Councilwoman after significant criticism and outrage was expressed by Howard County Residents upon the county executive’s refusal to end the contract with ICE. The Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Rights is one group of community members among many that has been advocating for the bill to be passed. With an increased likelihood for those detained by ICE to get the virus, the COVID-19 outbreak made it even harder for members of the community to turn away from the fact that the agency houses immigrants within Howard County.
“Our entire Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, which includes a number of organizations dedicated to human rights and fighting against racism and bigotry…[the coalition] has been protesting in front of the Jessup county jail, promoting events and press conferences amplifying the voices of immigrants affected by ICE’s unjust policies and the Jessup jail, etc. The Coalition has also always had a strong online presence; with the Covid outbreak, that presence has increased, not only for organizing purposes, but also to raise public awareness of what’s at stake,” a Howard County resident and Coalition member commented.
“[The support of the bill] has been overwhelming. Our Coalition represents a very diverse group of people, from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, including CASA, an immigrant rights organization, Jews United for Justice, ACLU, Friends of Latin America, and HoCo for Justice, a youth activist organization created in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.”
Hammond students also had much to say about the issue.
“I found out that ICE has a contract in our county my Freshman year of high school. When I learned about this I was shocked and disgusted seeing as how diverse this county is,” commented Junior Adom Amissah.
Fellow Junior Autumn Worthington added, “I genuinely did not know that ICE occupies our county until I saw about it on Instagram through my friends’ [social media] stories. [When I found out], I felt that ICE needs to get out of HoCo. They are inhumane towards immigrants and treat them horribly. All they do is tear families apart and we don’t need that here.”
I became aware [that ICE occupies Howard County] around about a year and a half ago, like spring of 2019, [and] I was incredibly eager to get them out. I think they’re a bunch of thugs. They have no right to terrorize our community like they do,” stated Hammond Senior José Terrasa.
Written and verbal testimonies, the majority in favor of the bill, flooded in these past few weeks while community advocates and coalition members rallied, continuing to demand that ICE be removed from the county.
This seemed to leave an impression on certain councilmembers.
“Actively, the bill is supported by Liz Walsh (District 1), of course, who wrote it, and Deb Jung (District 4). Christiana Rigby (District 3) seems to be inclined to support it as well,” says HoCo Community and Coalition member.
However, others remained undecided or against the bill and some have responded to Howard County advocates more sourly than others.
“[County Executive Calvin Ball] responded very poorly [to the bill]. He got elected with the support of immigrant rights activists, because of his apparent commitment to make HoCo more welcoming to undocumented immigrants; when he was a council man, he was one of the authors of a bill to turn HoCo into a sanctuary county (the bill would be vetoed by Kittleman),” states the Coalition member.
“Once elected, his attitude in support of the ICE contract disappointed many of his supporters. He insisted that only very violent criminals were being held at the county jail. However, last month, he tried to circumvent CB51 and weaken our resolve by issuing an executive order to determine that only violent criminals would be held there. Something that, according to him several months ago, was already happening. Because of such manipulative and grandstanding behavior, Ball has lost the confidence of many human rights activists and organizations,” he adds.
Council member Opel Jones (District 2), an ally of Calvin Ball, and Sole Republican councilmember David Yungmann (District 5), voted against the bill.
3 out of 5 council members voted in favor of the bill. However, it was vetoed by County Executive Calvin Ball.
“Our Coalition remains strong and united. It has managed to gather people of all walks of life to fight for justice in Howard County. Despite strong opposition by Calvin Ball, a majority of council members, all women, stood up against ICE and in favor of the bill. We’re very proud of our council women and the members of our Coalition. There is still a lot of work to be done, to raise awareness of ICE’s abuses and seek accountability from our elected officials. We are just getting started!” comments the Coalition member on the veto.
The meeting can be watched here: https://cc.howardcountymd.gov/Online-Tools/Watch-Us.