On Oct. 7, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball vetoed County Bill 51-2020, which would have ended the county’s contract with ICE to detain immigrants at the Howard County Detention Center.

Mr. Ball justified his veto, in part, because of the presumed quality of the center: If the goal is to ensure that all ICE detainees are treated humanely and with dignity in the Trump administration era, we should want them housed at the Howard County Detention Center.

Unfortunately, Mr. Ball’s rosy assessment of conditions at the center are dead wrong, according to a recent investigation conducted by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, based on an unannounced visit to the facility,

The report “identified violations of ICE detention standards that threatened the health, safety and rights of detainees. Although [the center] generally complied with ICE detention standards regarding communication, it did not meet the standards for detainee searches, food service and record requirements for segregation and medical grievances. We determined [the center] excessively strip-searched ICE detainees leaving their housing unit to attend activities within the facility, in violation of ICE detention standards and the facility’s own search policy.”

Investigators found that detainees, even “low-custody” detainees, were routinely forced to undergo strip searches (i.e body cavity searches) after visiting chapel or meeting with their lawyers within the jail facility.

The Department of Homeland Security was so disturbed by conditions in the detention center that a “detention services manager” was recommended for the facility to ensure compliance with federal detention standards.

Clearly immigrants in the Howard County Detention Center are not “treated humanely and with dignity” as Mr. Ball claims. It is time for Howard County to stop making $2 million per year from the ICE contract and stop this appalling treatment of human beings.

Calvin Ball, rescind your veto of CB 51-2020.

Laurie Liskin

Ellicott City

[This letter was originally published by the Howard County Times/Baltimore Sun Media on November 11th, 2020. Photo: Our Revolution Howard]