A new move against illegal immigrants

Bill would require Md. prisons to notify U.S. of an inmate's status

February 10, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz | julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Some Maryland lawmakers want to require the state prison system to notify federal authorities when an inmate may be in the country unlawfully - potentially resurrecting last year's debate about how the state is responding to an influx of illegal immigrants.

The proposal, backed by a group of powerful Democratic senators that includes Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, came before a committee Tuesday. Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. of Anne Arundel County said the measure could save the state millions by shifting incarceration costs away from the state by deporting more illegal immigrants.

Opponents of the bill, including the state Office of the Public Defender and immigrant-rights group Casa de Maryland, say it's unclear how prison officials are supposed to collect information about immigration status, which could lead to discrimination.

DeGrange said the bill comes as a response to a law that took effect in October, requiring prison officials to issue identification cards to all inmates upon release. The senator told the Senate Judiciary Committee that some lawmakers are concerned that illegal immigrants who are released and issued those cards could use them to obtain other forms of identification.

Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the prison system, said the cards given to newly released inmates are not official Maryland identification cards, which, like driver's licenses, now require documentation of lawful presence, such as a U.S. birth certificate.

In a hurried compromise at the end of last year's legislative session, lawmakers narrowly voted to prohibit driver's licenses from being issued to people without documentation that they are here legally. Maryland had been one of just four states without such restrictions, and had come to be seen as a destination for illegal immigrants, lawmakers argued.

"Maryland continues to be a major destination for immigrants," according to a legislative analysis prepared for DeGrange's bill. The report estimates that more than 225,000 undocumented men and women live in Maryland but notes a lack of reliable numbers in prisons.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services took no position on DeGrange's bill but said the prison system now notifies the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency when prison officials suspect an inmate is in the country illegally.

DeGrange's proposal would expand the federal reporting requirement to parole and probation officials, potentially leading to deportations of illegal immigrants who have been convicted of a crime but are supervised in the community rather than behind bars.

Information about a convicted criminal's immigration status is often contained in a presentencing report prepared for judges. DeGrange wants prison officals to include the status in every inmate's case file. The senators backing the bill say they want to make it clear that prison officials should be communicating with immigration officials.

In 2008, state prison officials notified federal authorities about 190 foreign-born inmates, and immigrations agents lodged detainers against 107 of them, meaning they could be deported after serving their state prison sentences. During that same period, prison officials said, 114 foreign-born inmates were released into Maryland communities. The prison system did not say how many of them were illegal immigrants eligible for deportation.

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