Baltimore County Council to consider jail immigration screening

Despite a veto threat from the county executive if it passes, three members of the Baltimore County Council are pushing legislation that would require the county's jail to screen for illegal immigrants.

County Councilman Todd Crandell introduced the bill Monday night with the support of his two fellow Republicans on the council, Wade Kach and David Marks.

It calls on the county's jail to join a federal program known as 287(g), in which correctional officers would be trained to use federal databases and spot possible immigration violations.

A public hearing will be held at the council's work session May 30, with a vote set for June 5.

Crandell said despite heated rhetoric on immigration issues, his bill aims to use an existing program to enforce existing laws.

"This is not about immigration, or anti-immigration. It's not about racial profiling," said Crandell, a Dundalk Republican. "This is just about upholding the rule of law."

The jail screening program has come under scrutiny in recent months amid President Donald Trump's efforts to crack down on illegal immigration and the backlash against those policies. State lawmakers considered a bill that would have banned counties from participating in programs such as 287(g), but the bill eventually failed in the General Assembly.

Frederick County is the first jurisdiction in Maryland to join the 287(g) program, which supporters say is a way for local governments to assist with immigration. Harford County is getting its program up and running, while Anne Arundel County has applied to the federal government to join.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on Monday reiterated his opposition to such programs.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, issued an executive order last month reinforcing the county's practice not to hold people in jail past their release date for immigration purposes, unless a warrant is presented.

"My executive order provides that no county employee, including the police, may discriminate based on anyone's immigration status," Kamenetz said in a statement. "Further, no individual may be detained past their scheduled release date unless a court order so states."

Crandell's bill will need four votes on the seven-member council to pass; five votes would be required to override a veto from Kamenetz.

A handful of people with concerns about immigration enforcement spoke at Monday's council meeting. Shuli Xia of Timonium described herself as a Chinese immigrant who became a citizen, which she said is "not easy."

While Kamenetz's executive order may sound noble, it "defies law and order," Xia said. She said she's concerned that welcoming illegal immigrants to the county will place a burden on schools and other public services.

Tony Ristaino presented nearly 1,000 petitions opposed to Kamenetz's order that were collected by the Campaign For Liberty's Baltimore County chapter. Ristaino criticized Kamenetz for refusing to join the jail screening program without hearing from constituents, which he said he supports.

"If you punish something, hopefully you'll get less of it," he said.

pwood@baltsun.com

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