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Proposal makes Maryland a 'sanctuary' state

Rachel Baye

Democrats in Annapolis are preparing a slew of legislation and other initiatives that they say are direct responses to President Donald Trump and anticipated changes in federal policy. Among them is a bill that would make Maryland a sanctuary state for immigrants without legal status.

Sen. Victor Ramirez, the bill’s sponsor, calls it the “Maryland Trust Act.” The Prince George’s County Democrat said the goal is to ensure that immigrants continue to trust their local police.

“If we allow local law enforcement or local law enforcement is forced to act as immigration agents, what that does is it undermines the community’s trust in policing,” he said. “It affects all of us.”

Ramirez plans to introduce the measure in the coming days. It would prevent police, corrections and school security officials from investigating potential immigration violations and from arresting or detaining anyone based solely on a request from federal immigration officials.

Baltimore and a couple other Maryland jurisdictions already have similar policies, but this would expand them to the rest of the state.

The bill is a direct response to Trump’s immigration policies, Ramirez said.

Last week, Trump signed an executive order making jurisdictions that adopt these so-called “sanctuary” policies ineligible for federal grants, except in certain circumstances.

But Ramirez said that doesn’t worry him.

“That can be challenged,” he said. “It’s a violation of the 10th Amendment because you’re now putting a financial penalty if local governments aren’t enforcing federal laws.”

San Francisco has already filed a lawsuit challenging the order.

The bill is just one of a series of measures Democrats in Annapolis frame as direct responses to Trump and his policies. Legislative leaders unveiled others at a press conference Tuesday.

“We’re going to play defense,” said Senate President Mike Miller. “We’re the ‘Old Line State’ because we protected George Washington’s army. Well, we’re going to be the ‘New Line State’ this year because we’re going to protect ourselves from Washington, D.C.”

The bill with the potential for the biggest immediate impact would let state Attorney General Brian Frosh challenge federal policies in court without having to get approval from Gov. Larry Hogan or the General Assembly on a case-by-case basis. It would also give Frosh $3 million a year to pay for five new staff members to help bring those lawsuits.

Frosh said the measure is similar to tactics taken by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s a model that we’ve seen used by Republican attorneys general,” Frosh said. “I think it’s especially appropriate given the crazy statements that Mr. Trump made on the campaign trail and the ill-considered and illegal executive orders and pronouncements that he’s made since he’s been sworn in.”

Removing the governor from the process of choosing when to file a lawsuit could be unconstitutional, said Doug Mayer, spokesman for the governor.

"Sadly this is just one of you know many ham-handed, overtly political attempts that we've seen over the past two years to strip the governor's office of its longstanding authority,” Mayer said.

The other parts of the package include the creation of two state panels to monitor changes at the federal level — one for changes in healthcare law, such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and the other for changes affecting Marylanders’ finances, such as the elimination of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that regulates Wall Street.

The committees would allow lawmakers to react quickly if and when federal policies change, even outside of the General Assembly’s 90-day session, said House Majority Leader Bill Frick.

“Things are moving fast in Washington,” Frick said. “We are seeing a lot of protections that have existed for a number of years being eroded. That’s likely to happen quickly. It may not happen while we’re in our legislative session.”

The legislators also announced a nonbinding resolution urging Hogan and Maryland’s congressional representatives to oppose the effort to repeal the ACA, and a second resolution revoking the state’s support for a constitutional convention. Though Maryland Democrats have supported a constitutional convention in the past, they said calling for changes to the Constitution now is too risky.

“We cannot afford to let Donald Trump to rewrite the Bill of Rights,” Frick said.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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