Maryland Trust Act would protect undocumented Marylanders

Carlo Sanchez

by Christopher Miller

Many immigrants in Maryland are trusting that proposed immigrant protection legislation will soon become a reality

The Trust Act, drafted in the Maryland General Assembly in early January, would instruct local police to not act as immigration agents for the federal government—especially Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The act was drafted in response to President Trump’s executive order in late January to strip sanctuary cities and counties of their federal funding. It is seen as a bulwark to help protect Maryland’s large immigrant populatio

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Victor R. Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, in the state Senate and Dels. Marice I. Morales, D-Montgomery, and Carlo Sanchez, D-Prince George’s, in the House of Delegates.

The act was modeled after similar legislation recently passed in California—entitled the California TRUST Act, Sanchez said.

The Maryland legislation would prevent local law enforcement from being deputized by the federal government to detain immigrants, said Renato Mendoza, an advocacy specialist for CASA.

The Maryland General Assembly website states that the proposed legislation would prohibit police officers from “stopping, arresting, searching, or detaining an individual for purposes of investigating a suspected immigration violation or inquiring about specified matters…”

This is particularly relevant because Maryland has a large population of international students enrolled at its universities and has numerous “sanctuary cities,” like Takoma Park, that help shelter immigrants, especially undocumented ones, from being detained and prosecuted under federal immigration laws.

“One third of the Montgomery County residents were born outside of this country,” Mendoza said, adding that the county is “one of the most diverse in the country.”

For Sanchez, the legislation is personal.

“My parents immigrated from El Salvador and came in as undocumented immigrants,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be the child of immigrants who live in daily fear of having their families ripped apart.”

One of the most vital aspects of the Trust Act, according to Mendoza, is that it would “codify a lot of the things that local jurisdictions have tried and are doing in regards to protecting immigrants and refugees.”

If passed, the Trust Act would help move Maryland towards becoming a sanctuary state.

One of the problems facing the legislation, though, is simple semantics.

Mendoza says some jurisdictions, which might already offer certain protections to immigrants, are not willing to officially support the legislation for fear of the potential threat of Trump and the federal government.

“They talk the talk, but they won’t walk the walk,” said Sanchez.

“If the ‘sanctuary state’ label was not associated with the Trust Act, the legislation would pass,” said Mendoza.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett isn’t convinced of the need for the Trust Act, noting that he has repeatedly assured immigrant groups that they have nothing to fear from local law enforcement.

“I don’t see the necessity at this point in time,” Leggett said. “I’m not saying we may not get to that point…but I don’t think that we’re there yet.”

The Trust Act has two legislative hearings later this month: Feb. 21 in the Senate and Feb. 28 in the House.

In the meantime, Mendoza and CASA are doing all they can to get the word out about the legislation. The group has also been helping to make sure the language in the legislation makes sense.

CASA has organized an event, set for Feb. 27, for which the group will bus concerned citizens to Annapolis where they can talk with their elected representatives.

For Sanchez, the impetus for passing the legislation is simple.

“This is much more about protecting people who are doing everything they need to do and protecting them from discrimination simply because of their legal status,” he said.