The council chambers, Courtesy Howard County Government

Lawmakers have approved an ordinance designed to shield Howard County’s undocumented residents from police-aided deportation, though the measure’s future remains very much in question.

The five-member Howard County Council voted 3-2 last night in favor of a bill prohibiting Howard County police and other county employees from helping federal agents deport undocumented immigrants or, in most cases, inquiring about residents’ immigration status.

Council President Calvin Ball and Councilwoman Jennifer Terrasa introduced the proposed ordinance during the first council session of the year. They later amended it several times to clarify its intent and purpose, according to county legislative records.

The newer version, last updated yesterday before the vote, replaces the phrase, “declaring Howard County a sanctuary county,” in its stated purpose with the phrase, “not to discriminate on the basis of immigration status.” It also alludes to the growing Hispanic population in Howard County and Maryland, defines “discrimination” (a word included in the original bill) and adds what actions county employees can take that would not be prohibited, among other changes.

Both Ball and Terrasa voted “yes” on the measure last night, joined by Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty. Councilmen Jon Weinstein and Greg Fox voted “no.”

Weinstein told news outlets he voted against it because he didn’t see it as a practical protection for undocumented residents.

The voting tally indicates the bill may not be around for long. County Executive Allan Kittleman promised to veto the measure shortly after it was proposed, arguing it was a “hollow political statement” that would be ineffective, hinder other police work carried out in collaboration with the feds and risk losing the county federal funds. The council will need four votes to override his veto, meaning someone would need to convince Weinstein or Fox to switch teams.

Kittleman has 10 days to nix the measure. Despite the looming veto, Ball was optimistic after the vote. “I sincerely hope [Kittleman] will reconsider his promise to veto this bill, but, if not, I am even more inspired than ever to fight for the Howard County we all aspire to be!” he wrote on Facebook.

While many in Howard County have rallied to show their support in recent weeks, the bill has its fair share opponents. Last night’s meeting drew a packed house with a medley of green “YES” signs and red “NO” signs in the audience.

In theory, the ordinance would prevent police from replicating the behavior of Bel Air police officers who asked a woman (who turned out to be a citizen and Bel Air resident of nearly 30 years) if she was in the country illegally.

Howard County Chief of Police previously told the Sun that he opposes the measure because it could compromise police relationships with federal agencies, echoing one of Kittleman’s concerns.

If and when Kittleman vetoes the bill, the council will take it up again for a potential override at its next meeting in March.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...

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