ANNAPOLIS — A proposal that would have forbidden some of Frederick County's immigration enforcement practices has fizzled in a Maryland Senate committee.
Sen. Victor Ramirez said his legislation would have established statewide parameters for when police can detain or question individuals on immigration-related issues. The bill was aimed at preventing racial profiling and easing fears that can prevent immigrants from seeking help from police, Ramirez said.
It make sense to enforce immigration laws on people who commit crimes, Ramirez said. However, an expired vehicle tag or a civil detainer shouldn't trigger the deportation process, he added.
"Do we want to call immigration on that person and separate them from their families and deport them? Ultimately, we create orphans," said Ramirez, D-Prince George's.
The senator said he was disappointed that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee chose to vote down his bill Tuesday. However, his efforts to educate lawmakers about immigration issues will continue, and his proposal will likely return next session, he added.
"In nine months, we'll be back here again, and we'll try again. Unfortunately, in nine months, more people will be separated from their children," Ramirez said.
Ramirez's bill would have large implications for the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, which runs an immigration enforcement program in partnership with the federal government. The sheriff's office in 2008 became the only Maryland agency to sign on to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, called 287(g).
Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, a lead proponent of Frederick County's program, last year vowed to mount strong resistance to Ramirez's proposal, which he called a "backdoor effort to destroy secure communities."
Sen. David Brinkley said he would have voted against the bill if it had come before the full Senate. While Brinkley said he understood Ramirez's concern about the ICE program, he argued that debate over the issue belongs at the federal level.
"The fact is people in this country shouldn't have the option to ignore laws," said Brinkley, R-District 4. "If the law is a bad law, then work on changing it, and don't criticize law enforcement for enforcing it."
Brinkley said he does not think police in Frederick County use racial profiling to target people they suspect of immigration violations.
As introduced, Ramirez's legislation would have barred law enforcement from holding people based only on an immigration detainer, though it would not weaken a judge's authority to set bail. Under the bill, police would not be permitted to stop, search, arrest or detain someone solely to investigate a suspected immigration violation. In addition, officers could not question an arrested individual or crime victim about immigration status or place of birth, according to the bill's provisions.
While immigrant advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union supported the measure, it drew opposition from the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and Maryland Sheriffs' Association.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.