Khizr Khan, who created stir at DNC last year, to appear at 'Call for Unity' rally in Towson

Khizr Khan, the father of a fallen Army soldier and an immigrant who made national headlines last year when he criticized Donald Trump at the Democratic National Convention, is set to speak Wednesday at a rally in Towson.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said he plans to honor Khan, an immigrant from Pakistan, with a citation recognizing him for speaking out for the rights of immigrant communities.

A number of advocacy groups are also scheduled to attend the rally, which is being billed as "A Call for Unity."

"A year ago I attended the Democratic National Convention, and I was moved by the powerful words of Khizr Khan," Kamenetz said in an interview Tuesday.

The county executive said he learned through local interfaith leaders that Khan has a relative who lives in the county, and county officials invited him to speak at the rally.

Khan, a resident of Virginia, spoke at the convention in Philadelphia last summer and criticized Trump, then the Republican nominee for president.

Khan's son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004. At the convention, Khzir Khan described himself and his wife, Ghazala, as patriotic American Muslims, and said Trump "consistently smears the character of Muslims."

"Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution?" he asked of Trump, before pulling out his copy of the document.

Wednesday's rally is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Patriot Plaza, an area between the county courthouse and county office building in downtown Towson. Its aim is to "bring awareness to the ongoing importance of diversity and eradicating discrimination and hatred in communities in Baltimore County and across the nation," according to an announcement from the county executive's office.

Kamenetz said he also plans to proclaim July 12 "Unity Day" in the county. He said he's been moved by stories of fear within the county's immigrant community.

"People are afraid to drop their kids off at school or seek medical care or even report that they're a victim of a crime," he said. "We have an increasingly diverse population in Baltimore County, and it's the time for real leaders to stand up."

In April, Kamenetz signed an executive order formalizing county policies that prohibit police officers and other county employees from asking anyone's immigration status. He said he has experienced an "uptick in hate mail" and social media messages since signing it.

The rally comes a month after the County Council tabled a bill that would have required the county jail to screen inmates for immigration violations. The legislation sparked strong debate, and Kamenetz, who is considering a run for governor in 2018, had vowed to veto the measure if it passed.

Councilman David Marks was one of the three Republicans on the County Council to sponsor that bill, but later voted with the panel's four Democrats to table it.

Marks said he felt Khan was a partisan choice for a speaker at the rally.

"I would not have picked a speaker from a partisan convention," said Marks, of Perry Hall. "There are probably dozens of other people who could have conveyed the same message without having that partisan backdrop. Having said that, I think we should all try to find common ground wherever we can, and that includes the county executive."

Kamenetz said Khan speaks "about the Constitution and the need to protect all residents."

"That's the essence of what government stands for," he said.

Groups co-hosting the event include include Amigos of Baltimore County, the Baltimore County NAACP, the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council, the Islamic Society of Baltimore, and the Baltimore Jewish Council.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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