Originally published in The Intercept on July 12, 2018.
Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan made national headlines in June when he recalled his state’s National Guard unit of four soldiers from the southern U.S. border. The only GOP governor to call back troops in protest of President Donald Trump’s child separation policy, he has touted the move as a sign of his commitment to stand up to a remarkably unpopular president.
The governor, who is up for re-election this year, has reveled in his reputation as a moderate Republican, and currently boasts a 69 percent approval rating among Maryland residents who, just two years ago, overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton. But in a year in which Democrats, leaning into opposition to Trump, are expected to have the upper hand come November, Hogan’s re-election is all but guaranteed. Maryland politics can be volatile: When Hogan was elected in 2014, his Democratic opponent was leading by 13 points at this stage of the race. And immigrant rights groups say his recent grandstanding with the National Guard is an exception to a long and hostile record on immigration, one that includes calling for greater cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and restricting the entry of Syrian refugees into the state.
“Unfortunately, Gov. Hogan has not been a good friend of the Latino and immigrant community,” said Gustavo Torres, the president of CASA in Action, a group that advocates on behalf of immigrants on the electoral level. “He’s been extremely quiet in moments when we needed real leadership, and other times he has attacked immigrants using the same talking points about criminals and danger the president relies on.”
The state has a sizable immigrant population. In 2015, nearly 1 million foreign-born individuals lived in Maryland, comprising about 15 percent of the state’s population. According to the American Immigration Council, nearly 42 percent of Maryland’s building maintenance workers and groundskeepers are immigrants, as are a quarter of all state health care workers.
Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee in the gubernatorial race and former NAACP president, has been a vocal immigrant advocate in the state. In 2013, the Baltimore Sun named Jealous “Marylander of the Year,” in part for his work helping to pass the state’s DREAM Act, which grants in-state college tuition to undocumented students. On his campaign website, Jealous has pledged to work with the legislature to pass a sanctuary state bill, make Maryland welcoming for refugees, defend DREAMers, and champion a pathway to citizenship on the federal level. He was arrested at a White House immigration protest last year.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in Maryland, and the party is hoping to mobilize anti-Trump voters, seizing on the national momentum for a “blue wave” election. With two-thirds of Americans opposed to Trump’s immigration policies, immigration may well be a motivating issue for Maryland voters come November. According to a poll released in mid-June, the No. 1 issue for nearly half of Maryland Democrats is removing Trump from office. Jealous’s political strategy is to try and link a popular governor to an unpopular president.
“Donald Trump’s policies are extreme and racist, and it’s even more important that we have governors with courage and experience to move us forward no matter what happens in Washington,” Jealous told The Intercept.
As Josh Kurtz, an editor at Maryland Matters, put it, Hogan may have more difficulty “inoculating himself from President Trump and the Republican Congress” on immigration, given that it’s an emotionally salient issue that’s easier for average voters to understand. “If this issue remains so raw in the months ahead — and it could — swing voters, unreliable Democratic voters and new voters could all be reminded of the things they don’t like about the GOP,” wrote Kurtz.
Most voters have not been paying attention to the details of Hogan’s immigration record, so whether or not immigration plays a major role in the election will depend on how much Jealous decides to focus on it, said Daniel Schlozman, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s not impossible for immigration to be a major issue,” he said. “It just requires taking a record in bits and pieces and figuring out how to tell the voters what it means.”
Hogan’s re-election campaign website does not make any mention of immigration or immigrant communities. Amelia Chasse, a Hogan spokesperson, told The Intercept that the governor has “consistently called on Congress and the federal administration to work in a bipartisan manner to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and has repeatedly stood up to the Trump administration on immigration related issues that could impact Maryland.” Chasse cited Hogan’s removal of the National Guard troops last month and his opposition to the president rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as examples, both of which put the governor in line with most centrist Republicans. Chasse also pointed to the governor’s marriage to Yumi Hogan, a first-generation American who emigrated from South Korea.
Jealous has not yet taken Hogan to task on immigration, but Jerusalem Demsas, Jealous’s campaign spokesperson, indicated that the issue might become central to the campaign. “From his time as President of the NAACP to when he co-chaired the successful effort to pass the Maryland DREAM Act, Ben has stood up for immigrant families,” Demsas wrote in an email. “He will be no different during this campaign and when he is governor.”
Hogan, who was first elected in 2014, has tried to strike a delicate balance on immigration issues. As a Republican governor in a strong blue state, he’s tried to both distance himself from Trump and skirt the heated battles many of his red-state counterparts have leaned into; Hogan often reminds his constituents that immigration is an issue largely under the federal government’s purview.
That hasn’t stopped him from weighing in on a number of issues at the intersection of immigration and state policy, however. On the 2014 campaign trail, for example, he came out in opposition to Maryland’s policy of allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. He acknowledged he’d be unlikely to repeal it as governor, given the veto-proof Democratic majority in the Maryland legislature.
Upon taking office in January 2015, Hogan instructed the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center to provide ICE agents with 48 hours’ notice before an undocumented immigrant targeted for deportation was set to be released, so that feds could assume custody and try to remove them from the country. Hogan defended this move, saying he was merely complying with the Obama administration’s policy. The Washington Post editorial board praised Hogan’s stance as “common sense” and “responsible.”
But Hogan’s predecessor, Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, had bucked the Obama administration on a similar, more extreme policy in 2014, instructing the Baltimore jail not to automatically cooperate with ICE’s request to hold immigrants beyond their scheduled release from custody — what is commonly known as a detainer request. Other cities and states, including New York City and Connecticut, took similar measures at the time.
Later on in Hogan’s first year, over the objection of activists and faith leaders, he told the federal government that more Syrian refugees would not be welcome in Maryland. Hogan cited “safety and security” concerns. (He was joined by governors in 29 other states, most of them Republican, who demanded an end to Syrian refugee resettlement.) When then-Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sent Hogan a joint letter to reassure him that the vetting process was exhaustive and comprehensive, Hogan dismissed it, saying his position on Syrian refugees is “not going to change.”
Asked to comment on the issue, Chasse pointed out that the governor asked for more stringent vetting procedures, but that “the state has no authority over refugee resettlements.”
Immigrant rights activists say things deteriorated even further after Trump was elected.
First came Trump’s travel ban on refugees and citizens of Muslim-majority countries in January 2017. “Hogan was very quiet, very silent. He didn’t take any lead at all on responding to the attacks against Muslims,” said Torres of CASA in Action. While people all over the country poured into airports and the streets to protest the president’s executive order, Marylanders were upset by their Republican governor’s silence. Hundreds protested outside his home in Annapolis in February demanding he speak up and denounce the travel ban. Hogan dismissed the pressure, saying he’s “focused on solving Maryland problems” and that he doesn’t see protesting Trump’s policies as “his role.”
A month later, as activists in the state began to ramp up efforts to protect immigrant communities from the Trump administration, Hogan came out to say that efforts to limit cooperation with ICE were “absurd” and that he would do all in his power to kill the legislature’s attempt to pass a so-called sanctuary bill.
Hogan was referring to the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act of 2017, which would have curtailed state law enforcement agencies from disclosing nonpublic records to ICE, and barred state officials from asking crime victims or suspects about their immigration status. The measure was broadly supported by the state’s Latino, Asian, and black caucuses, as well as a host of progressive advocacy groups. “Maryland is different from most states in that we allow undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses,” testified the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Victor Ramirez, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “We must assure those residents that their information is safe and will not be used for immigration purposes.”
Hogan made his opposition to the bill clear, vowing to veto it immediately should it land on his desk. When the Maryland House of Delegates passed a version of the Trust Act, Hogan released a statement calling it an “outrageously irresponsible bill” that will “endanger” Maryland citizens.
To gin up opposition to the Trust Act, Hogan pointed to a recent scandal in the Maryland suburb of Rockville involving two undocumented immigrants. On March 17, 2017, two male students were arrested for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl in the bathroom. Both students were undocumented, and one was already in deportation proceedings. Montgomery County, where Rockville is located, had implemented sanctuary policies for immigrants in 2014, and Hogan quickly cited the students facing rape charges as a reason for why the legislature should avoid bringing similar policies statewide. (The Montgomery County policy stated that officials would not honor ICE detainer requests without adequate probable cause.) U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also cited the Rockville rape charges as reason to block any sort of sanctuary bill.
But the case fell through. The rape charges were dropped less than two months after the state’s attorney investigated the allegations. “The Hogan administration immediately accused the progressive immigrant policies in Montgomery County as being the cause for the crime, when in reality the teenagers were not guilty,” said Torres. The scandal was enough to help kill the Trust Act, which ended up floundering in the Senate.
Hogan sent out a fundraising letter shortly thereafter asking conservatives for help fighting “a far left agenda and the worst instincts of an increasingly liberal and out-of-touch state legislature.” As evidence of that, Hogan blasted Democrats for “focusing their efforts on trying to make our state a safe haven for criminals here illegally.” He went further, saying “we cannot allow Maryland to become a sanctuary state. Our local law enforcement should be doing more — not less — to make sure criminals here illegally are turned over to federal immigration officials. The rule of law must come first and we will do whatever we can to stop any so-called ‘sanctuary bills’ that would limit how jails and police could assist federal authorities.”
When it comes to limiting law enforcement and corrections entanglement with immigration enforcement, “Governor Hogan has had a largely obstructionist track record,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said in a statement. In addition to his stated desire to reject refugees from Syria, the civil liberties group pointed to Hogan’s vocal opposition to the Trust Act, which “would have implemented a range of reasonable safeguards for Maryland’s immigrant communities,” including ensuring that state and local policies do not run afoul of Fourth Amendment protections, and stopping Maryland from contributing to any Trump Muslim registry.
Immigrant advocates have also blasted Hogan for his silence on Trump’s decision to end temporary protected status, or TPS, a form of relief that allows citizens of countries undergoing turmoil or recovering from natural disasters to stay in the United States. Most TPS recipients hail from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, and over 20,000 live in Maryland. The cancelation of TPS means citizens of those countries will lose their protected status by September 2019. The chair of Maryland’s Democratic Party, Kathleen Matthews, issued a statement at the start of 2018 calling on the governor to “use the bully pulpit” he has to fight for TPS immigrants in his state.
“Many of these people have lived here for more than 20 years,” said Torres. “The president is canceling this extraordinary program, and Gov. Hogan has been very quiet. This is going to have a huge impact on our economy.” Chasse, Hogan’s spokesperson, did not specifically address the concern about TPS.
“I think a lot of people assume that Larry Hogan is good on a host of issues, when he really has been missing in action,” said Jay Hutchins, the executive director of the Maryland Working Families Party. “Everything is moving so quickly and ramping up, and we’re losing a lot of ground. There’s just absence of real leadership.”
According to recent polls, Maryland voters are not necessarily swayed by Hogan’s law-and-order immigration rhetoric. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released in March found that 75 percent of Maryland residents said they thought having local police more actively identify undocumented immigrants for potential deportation would likely deter immigrants from informing police of crime. Seventy-one percent said immigration enforcement should be left mainly to the feds.
Some advocates, like Torres of CASA in Action, go so far as to argue that Hogan’s tendency to frame immigration issues largely in terms of crime and safety could come back to bite him in November, like it did for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie in Virginia last November.
“The same thing happened in Virginia. The Republican candidate used the same language and it backfired,” Torres said. “I think that will happen here in Maryland. People are going to vote against someone who is so weak for our community.”