Immigration enforcement could become hot county issue

Community Times

Over the next few weeks, Baltimore County will be Maryland's ground zero in the controversy over President Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration.

The three Republicans on the County Council, Todd Crandell, David Marks and Wade Kach, want the county jail to screen for illegal immigrants — a direct challenge to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's order forbidding this practice.

A public hearing is set for May 30, with a vote by the council on June 5.

It's unlikely the bill will pass in that the four Democrats on the council oppose President Trump's anti-immigrant push.

But it is sure to be a point of conflict in next year's county elections.

Baltimore County is home to 43,000 Hispanics — a 600 percent increase since 1990. The Reisterstown Road corridor from the city line in Pikesville to Main Street in Reisterstown has seen a proliferation of Latino families in recent decades.

Nearly 9 percent of the county's 112,000 school students are Hispanic, a number that is growing.

The jail-screening bill calls for Baltimore County to become part of a federal program that trains jail officers to spot immigration violations through a federal database.

Two counties — Frederick and neighboring Harford — are on board and Anne Arundel has applied to join.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh warned them the federal program holds the potential to open counties to lawsuits over illegal racial profiling.

Kamenetz said the three Republicans on the council "are trying to frankly grandstand the issue in defiance, now, of the attorney general's opinion." Kamenetz said he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Republicans, in turn, maintain Kamenetz, a Democrat who is eyeing a run for governor next year, is using the issue for his own political purposes.

Their point is underlined by Kamenetz's earlier order barring county law enforcement officers from asking about the immigration status of any individual they happen to encounter.

The executive order also states that the county cannot hold people detained in jail past their release dates just because a federal immigration agent makes such a request.

Frosh chimed in on that point, too, reminding jail officials across the state that a warrant from a judge is required if immigration officials want to keep a detainee under lock and key. Otherwise, he wrote the county might end up violating the constitutional ban on unlawful detention.

During this year's General Assembly session in Annapolis, Hispanic lawmakers tried to pass a bill limiting police cooperation with immigration officials — unless a signed warrant is presented. The bill also barred the state or counties from withholding benefits or discriminating against an individual based on immigration status.

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, of Pikesville, found himself in the middle of this high-voltage issue. He chaired the committee working on the bill. The panel's watered-down version failed to find sufficient support to pass before adjournment.

Trump and Vice President Pence have warned that counties adopting "sanctuary" policies aimed at thwarting immigration enforcement could face a loss of federal aid.

Rep. Andy Harris, whose 1st District includes a portion of northern Baltimore County, criticized Kamenetz last November when the county executive came out in favor of protecting students from immigration enforcement efforts on college campuses in the county.

Harris called the county executive's move a "risky gambit" that "may result in budgetary consequences." Baltimore County receives $110 million in federal funds, though it is unclear if any of that money is at risk.

So get ready for a war of words over the immigration-enforcement issue in Towson in the coming weeks. It could get heated.

Barry Rascovar's blog is www.politiclamaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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