MD General Assembly Convened January 12, 2022
Immigration Bills Introduced
After the General Assembly's successful override of Governor Hogan's vetoes in December 2021 of the Dignity Not Detention bill and the Driver Privacy bill, both of which are now law, the legislators are busy pre-filing bills. There will be four immigrants' rights bills that the UU Legislative Ministry of MD will be supporting in the upcoming session:
Maryland General Assembly Immigrants' Rights Bills -- 2022 Session
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone the right to counsel – in criminal proceedings. Unfortunately, despite its severe consequences, deportation proceedings are civil and people in detention facing deportation do not have a right to government-funded counsel, leaving most immigrants to represent themselves in immigration courts, in a system where even legal scholars admit, the statutes are as complicated as the Tax Code. CASA estimates that in Maryland, more than 500 adults are held in immigration detention, forced to defend themselves. (77% of immigrants do not have counsel during immigration proceedings. – Vera Institute of Justice.) Such a process violates the right of due process, harms immigrant communities and damages local economies.
The proposed bill will:
Establish an Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings Program administered by the Maryland Legal Services Corporation to provide access to legal representation to certain detained individuals in certain immigration proceedings
Provide education and outreach to certain individuals, families, and communities affected by immigration proceedings and detention
Establish the Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings Special Fund as a special, non-lapsing fund
Prince George’s County and Baltimore City have already instituted universal representation programs. A state-wide program would ensure consistency. Moreover, forty jurisdictions nationally provide representation.
House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committees
Studies show that individuals who represent themselves in immigration proceedings will succeed in preventing deportation and separation from family only 3% of the time, while those who are presented by counsel will succeed in more than 30% of the cases. (Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.)
Only 37 percent of all immigrants and 14 percent of detained immigrants go to court with lawyers on their side, according to a 2016 American Immigration Council (AIC) study. (National Immigrant Justice Center)
Forty jurisdictions nationally provide legal representation to undocumented immigrants. In Maryland, Baltimore City and PG County have representation programs. A state-wide program will ensure consistency in application.
In Baltimore City, 41% of detainees who were represented in immigration courts and hearings were released from custody -- either on bond or won their cases.
The proposed bill will remove immigration status as a barrier to health care insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Currently, undocumented immigrants, many of whom, despite working, paying taxes, contributing to Social Security and Medicare, are ineligible for ACA.
The ACA includes a provision that allows states to apply for a waiver to make eligibility changes. The bill will enable Maryland to apply for this waiver and also to apply for a waiver to expand Medicaid eligibility for undocumented immigrants. Legislative analysts do not anticipate that the Federal government would deny such waivers as, historically, state experimentation has been encouraged.
Access to affordable health care, particularly during the current pandemic, is a right not to be denied because of immigration status. The health of all of us, in all our communities is at stake.
House Health and Government Operations and Senate Finance Committees
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Non-citizens are significantly more likely than citizens to be uninsured. In 2019, among the non-elderly population, 25% of lawfully present immigrants and more than four in ten (46%) undocumented immigrants were uninsured compared to less than one in ten (9%) citizens. Among citizen children, those with at least one non-citizen parent are more likely to be uninsured compared to those with citizen parents (9% vs. 5%)
Despite significant contributions to the national economy -- income taxes, Social Security and Medicare FICA contributions, working in essential jobs, particularly during the pandemic -- our undocumented immigrant neighbors, many of whom would otherwise qualify for Medicaid, are currently ineligible, thus making them and their families susceptible to illnesses and diseases that in the long run without care may threaten our public safety. We can begin to correct this inequity by ensuring that pre-natal and post-partum care are available to undocumented immigrant families.
Studies show that the majority of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Preserving and protecting the lives of children is the responsible, moral thing to do. Every person deserves lifesaving care regardless of immigration status.
The proposed bill will:
Expands eligibility for prenatal care through Medicaid (through pregnancy and twelve months postpartum) to all pregnant people, regardless of status.
Require the state to submit a state innovation waiver (under § 1115 of the Social Security Act) to allow Maryland to make this change to eligibility.
Seventeen states, including neighboring Virginia, provide coverage to pregnant people regardless of immigration status through Medicaid or another state program.
In Maryland, 7% of babies without care are three times more likely to have birth complications.
The federal Immigration and Nationality Act lists multiple categories of deportable aliens which include lawfully admitted permanent residents (I-151, green card holders). Among the categories is conviction of a crime -- felony or certain misdemeanors – and subsequent sentence to confinement. 8 U.S.C.A. section 1251.
Sometimes, as the Maryland legislature has recognized, it is in the best interests of the community to provide an outcome in a criminal matter that will not result in a conviction and has established “probation before judgment” (PBJ) where a judge will strike a conviction and impose probation instead. The statute works well for U.S. citizens. However, under federal immigration law, the current MD PBJ statute is still considered a conviction for non-U.S. citizens because during the PBJ plea agreement process, they have admitted guilt and a finding of guilt is sufficient to trigger severe consequences of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The results can be not only severe but inhumane. A Maryland resident for whom PBJ is imposed, but who happens to be a lawfully admitted permanent resident or an undocumented immigrant, can face detention and deportation. Families can be separated – fathers, mothers, breadwinners, taken from their children – for minor offenses. We have the opportunity with HB559 / SB 265 to correct this injustice.
As retired U.S. Immigration Judge John F. Gossart Jr. commented in the Baltimore Sun, “Virginia and New York have similar statutes, which function so that their non-citizen residents do not suffer additional consequences from probation. To allow this inequity to exist from one jurisdiction to another, when the intent of PBJ statutes is the same or similar, is in my opinion unjust. Which side of the Potomac River the case is heard on should not determine whether a PBJ triggers federal consequences.”
Our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to promote and affirm justice, equity and compassion in human relations and surely, supporting the passage and enactment of HB 559 / SB 265, Probation Before Deportation will redressing the inequity that exists in Maryland’s Probation Before Judgment statute.