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Kamenetz signs immigrant protection order

John Lee

Baltimore County could be on a collision course with the Trump administration over immigrants living in the county illegally. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz signed an executive order yesterday to protect those immigrants.

Before he signed the order, Kamenetz pointed out he was joined in the old County Courthouse by Latinos, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, African-Americans and members of the LGBT community.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is what Baltimore County looks like,” he said.

The order forbids county police from asking people they stop about their immigration status unless they have an outstanding criminal warrant. It also says anyone detained in the county jail will not be held past their release date, unless there is a court order.

Kamenetz said the county has been doing this all along, but that his order gives clarity and direction to the county’s police and correctional officers.

"But we also think that the existence of a written executive order is going to give people in the community assurances and security," he said.

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Trump administration would start withholding federal grants from so-called sanctuary cities.

The administration began publishing a list of localities across the country that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. This includes a request, known as a detainer, that local police hold on to an inmate who is in the country illegally.

That gives the feds time to decide whether to pick them up and deport them.

Kamenetz acknowledges that putting Baltimore County on the record saying it will not comply with those detainers puts it at risk of losing more than $100 million in federal funding. But he says if that happens, the county will see the Trump administration in court.

"So, we would challenge in court immediately any effort to withhold federal funds based upon a failure to pursue an unconstitutional immigration policy," he said.

He said the Trump administration policy is unconstitutional because the 10th amendment prohibits the federal government from withholding funds to force localities to conform to federal policies unless the money is directly tied to those policies.

But Republican Congressman Andy Harris, who represents a portion of Baltimore County, doesn’t see it that way. Harris declined to be interviewed for this story. But back in November, he warned Kamenetz that he was going too far when the county executive said he would protect students without proper documents on the county’s college campuses.

Harris said then that when it comes to immigration, the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction.

"When you don’t follow the law in the country, there actually are consequences," Harris warned. "We are a nation of laws and rules. And if he chooses not to do it, it could very well be the will of Congress and the will of this administration to withhold federal funding from those jurisdictions that don’t choose to cooperate in following the law."

Matthew Bourke, with U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Kamenetz’s order will likely land the county on the administration’s non-cooperative list. Public announcements and policy statements are enough for that to happen.

In a statement, Bourke said that detaining immigrants is "an efficient, effective and safe means to carry out ICE’s mission."

Meanwhile, Baltimore County Latinos said federal moves have created an atmosphere of fear in their community.

Marisol Johnson, of Amigos of Baltimore County, which provides outreach to the Latino community, is also vice-chair of the county school board.

She said some parents are not sending their children to school because "they are afraid when their children get home at the end of the day, they’re not going to be there."

A move in Annapolis to make Maryland a sanctuary state has passed the House of Delegates, but is bogged down in a Senate committee.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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