BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A battle over immigration is playing out in Howard County.
Tuesday the county council considered a sanctuary bill that would declare the county a safe zone for undocumented immigrants and at times the meeting got contentious between citizens and even the council members themselves.
The issue has sparked a fiery response from both sides in Ellicott City, where more than 200 people signed up to voice their opinions on the matter.
The meeting began at 6 p.m. at the George Howard Building, 3430 Court House Drive.
The legislation would change the county code to declare the jurisdiction a safe zone for people without citizenship. If it passes, police would not be allowed to ask illegal immigrants to prove their citizenship unless they commit a crime.
“We believe that in Howard County we shouldn’t just tolerate diversity, we should celebrate and embrace it,” says Calvin Ball, a council member.
Ball cosponsored the bill, which would limit county employees’ cooperation with federal immigration authorities and children who are U.S. citizens wouldn’t be separated from their parents who are here illegally.
Ball also hopes the bill would encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes to police without fear of being deported themselves.
“I believe when it comes to undocumented immigrants, our neighbors, our friends, our sisters, our brothers, our time is now,” said Ball.
Several other local jurisdictions, including Baltimore City, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, have declared sanctuary status.
“No undocumented immigrant should be targeted based upon their immigration status,” said Ball.
Even if the bill does pass the county council, County Executive Allan Kittleman has vowed to veto it. He’s concerned about the impact the legislation could have on public safety.
“This is not something the people of Howard County want,” said Kittleman. “What this bill says is you can’t have any future agreements with ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] or any other federal agencies dealing with immigration. It seems to me, why would you want to take that tool away?”
For residents who also oppose the bill, there’s concern there will be a spike in crime if the county provides a shelter for illegal immigrants.
“We don’t need to turn Howard County into a sanctuary destination and bring more illegals into our area to burden our system, give the police more to handle,” said Frank Mirabile of Howard County.
President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to deport 2-3 million illegal immigrants, first focusing on hardened criminals.
But there were some present Tuesday night who hope Howard county will follow the lead of other jurisdictions that have provided a safe haven for illegal immigrants.
Another concern: The president-elect’s promise to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities.
Still, the council is moving forward.
“My hope is that we can all come together for something that is best for our community,” said Ball.
The hearing could potentially be extended to a second day due to the overwhelming interest by the public to weigh in.
A vote from the county council could come as early as Feb. 6.