By Uma Ribeiro
On Monday, October 5th, the Howard County Council voted on bill CB 51, with Council members Liz Walsh, Christiana Rigby, and Deb Jung voting in favor and Opel Jones and David Yungmann voting against. The bill, proposed by councilwoman Liz Walsh, would have ended Howard County’s longstanding contract with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention. However, the bill was vetoed on October 7th only two days after it passed 3-2, by County Executive Calvin Ball.
For months before the vote, immigrant justice organizations—including CASA, a group expanding opportunities for the Latino and immigrant communities, and the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice as well as local youth activism organizations such as Hoco For Justice—urged for councilmembers to pass the bill. Residents advocated for Howard County to end its cooperation with ICE, an institution deeply rooted in racism and cruel and inhumane treatment of Black and Brown immigrants.
Written and vocal testimonies in favor of the bill flooded in, from those affected firsthand to students advocating for the bill. Howard County residents urged Ball to listen to their advocacy, and for Howard County to join Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, and Prince William County, along with Baltimore City, in discontinuing their collaboration with ICE.
The rapid turnaround in which Ball vetoed CB-51 after the passing vote implies that he did not truly consider the concerns of the people. Hammond students agree that ICE has no place in our world, let alone in Howard County.
“It was clear that people have voted to remove ICE and as someone who supports [the] abolition of ICE, Calvin Ball vetoing that bill seems like a blatant display of hate and support for ICE which is in my eyes a hateful organization,” comments Junior Sarah Quade, “I was…shocked when I found out [there is ICE detention in Howard County]. If you drive through Howard County you see signs that say ‘hate has no home here’ and ‘no one is illegal.’ Maryland is a blue state and has been a blue state for a very, very long time, so it was kind of shocking as well as upsetting that there was an ICE detention center [here].”
Fellow Junior Adom Amissah added, “I think it was a bad decision on Calvin Ball’s part. Change was being made and he became an obstacle. I feel that this decision is wrong…When I found out there were [detention centers here] I was disgusted because Howard County, known to be diverse, is encouraging ICE.”
Councilmember David Yungmann, a known Trump supporter and the only Republican on the council, voted in opposition of the bill, calling Ball’s decision one of “common-sense” according to The Baltimore Sun. These actions taken against immigrant communities prove that Ball is no more than a moderate Democrat who will choose profit over people.
Hammond Senior Mohamed Elhassan commented, “I think knowing what ICE has done and vetoing that bill is shortsighted. Clearly we need to re-evaluate [based on] how ICE has acted historically… I feel as a student, we need somebody a bit more radical in terms of how these situations are dealt with. Lukewarm leaders are no better than those who oppose what our community stands for.”
Before becoming executive, Ball was one of the council members who proposed and voted in favor of a bill that would deem Howard County a “sanctuary city,” meaning the county government would ban most immigration status checks. This step would allow immigrant families in the county to no longer have to fear detainment. This was vetoed by the previous county executive.
When running for executive, he gained support from the immigrant community within Howard County, only to make decisions that would directly interfere with their lives as executive. Since then, his anti-immigrant actions have proven him to be an unreliable leader. We need a leader who listens rather than ignoring the voices of their residents.
Ball argued that the detention center has kept the county safe for “25 years” and that immigrants are “treated humanely and with dignity” at the local detention center, so, “…we should want them housed at the Howard County Detention Center.”
However, as reported by The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, ICE’s own guidelines on the humane treatment of inmates were violated at the Howard County jail. Detainees were excessively strip-searched if they attempted “…to attend activities within the facility” and the facilities did not provide two hot meals a day to detainees or proper medical services.
In fact, The Department of Homeland Security had to recommend a “detention services manager” to ensure these violations were taken care of because the conditions were so poor.
Ball also argued that the detention center only housed violent criminals, which was proven false. The Department of Corrections holds detainees with nonviolent crimes as well as people who have already completed their sentences in jail before detention.
In a response to the veto, the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice sent out a statement, writing, “Dr. Ball’s repeated mischaracterization of the detainees as violent criminals has furthered the stereotype that Brown and Black people are dangerous and the ‘once a criminal, always a criminal’ mentality that has been used to incite fear of people of color.”
They continued, “By providing beds for ICE, we are participating in their systematic terror and the tearing apart of families. ICE could choose other options that are less destructive to families such as check-ins or ankle monitoring. We do not have to participate in this system,” as published on friendsoflatinamerica.org.
By agreeing to rent housing for ICE to jail immigrants, Howard County is compensated $110 per day and per person. In 2019 alone, Howard County’s collaboration with ICE created almost $2 million of profit from keeping the jail open and detaining immigrants, with the county choosing profit over human lives.
“Qualities I wish to see in a [representative] are open mindedness and compassion. Judging by Calvin Ball’s recent decision I don’t think he possesses these qualities. He didn’t seem to think about what those who are [detained] are going through,” adds Adom Amissah.
We need a representative who is not lukewarm, but rather one who stands up for the immigrant community. We need one who advocates for humanity over profit and one who instead of making rash and harmful decisions, listens to the urges of their residents. Calvin Ball continues to show us time and time again that he does not possess the qualities Hammond students and Howard County residents wish to see in a leader.