Hundreds signed up to testify at Howard County hearing on proposed sanctuary status

(WBFF) -- Emotions were high and tensions too at times during an hours-long public hearing in Howard County on Tuesday night.

The council is hearing from hundreds of citizens about a proposed bill that would make Howard a sanctuary county for undocumented immigrants.

A total of 270 people signed up to testify and by 11:00 p.m. around two dozen people had spoken.

The council was planning to work into the wee hours of the morning and added a second meeting Wednesday night to accommodate all those wanting to speak.

Many opponents to CB9-2017 brought signs against the measure and came wearing red clothing.

This bill would bar county employees and police from questioning a person's immigration status, enforcing federal immigration law and working with federal immigration agents.

But state and federal laws would still take precedence over the county law.

Each person was given three minutes to testify at Tuesday's hearing.

The conversations were contentious and heated at times with the council chair having to repeatedly quiet the crowd.

"People are supporting saying no," says Melissa Gruner who didn't sign up to speak but wanted to be at the meeting in person to show her opposition. "We are a country. We are a sovereign nation. We have a duty to our citizens, to our taxpayers, not to the rest of the world. If we want to help them, we will help them. That should be done through private charities. That shouldn't be done through forced taxpayer funding."

"We are preparing for what may happen, says Deeba Jafri who supports the measure. "It's very important for Howard county and Columbia as it celebrates in its 50th year of existence to stand up and say everyone is welcome here."

The council will be holding a work session at 4:30 p.m. next Monday, January 23 on the bill. The vote would happen at its meeting on February 6.

The county executive has said he will veto the bill if it passes as is. Allan Kittleman says he doesn't know of any immigration complaints the county has received.

"Our police department, which I think is one of the best in the country has one goal, that’s to keep everyone who lives here, works here, travels here, visits here safe. We don’t ask them where they’re from. We ask them what we can do to help and that’s what we are going to continue to do."

The bill needs three votes to pass. It would require four votes to overturn a veto by the county executive.

Wednesday's meeting will start at 7 p.m.

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