Calling the effort to shield immigrants who have entered the country illegally a "risky gambit," Rep. Andy Harris criticized Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on Tuesday for supporting the so-called sanctuary campus movement and threatened that Congress could withhold federal funding over the issue.
Harris, a Republican who represents portions of the county, was reacting to a letter Kamenetz released Monday in which he supported colleges in the county exploring the idea of blocking immigration enforcement on their campuses. The Democrat also said he had directed county police to avoid taking part "in any effort" to identify the immigration status of students.
"I am concerned that your letter demonstrates a lack of understanding that federal immigration law is the supreme law of the land, and that defiance of it represents a potential dereliction of duty for a sworn elected official or law enforcement officer," Harris wrote in his own letter Tuesday.
"I hope that you reconsider your position," wrote Harris, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "Otherwise, I fear your lack of respect for federal law may result in budgetary consequences under which hard-working Baltimore County taxpayers would suffer."
Both sides are playing politics with the issue, which has erupted following the election of Donald Trump. Local police have limited authority to enforce federal immigration laws.
It's not clear whether Kamenetz actually changed anything about the county's policing policies -- if he has, county officials have yet to articulate it -- and so it's not clear on what grounds Harris or anyone else in Congress would withhold funding.
Immigration violations are generally civil, not criminal matters.
Trump and other Republicans have long called to cut funding to so-called sanctuary cities that implement immigrant-friendly policies. Though that legislation has passed the House, it has repeatedly failed in the Senate.
"Andy Harris can continue to stand with President-elect Trump," Kamenetz said in a statement late Tuesday. "I will continue to stand with our students who are working hard to get their college educations."
Harris wasn't the only Republican reacting to Kamenetz on Tuesday. Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler sent a letter to Kamenetz encouraging him to "join the effort to identify those non-law abiding individuals who are in our country illegally and those who pose a real and credible threat to public safety."
Gahler, a Republican, recently signed an agreement with the federal government to train his deputies to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement to carry out limited immigration enforcement. Harford joined Frederick County as the only two jurisdictions in Maryland that have extended that training to local law enforcement.
The partisan back-and-forth is at least in part wrapped up in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Kamenetz has said he is considering a run against incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican. Hogan, who did not support Trump's presidential bid, has remained mum on the issue.
Trump campaigned on a promise to end a program established by President Barack Obama that has allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to stay. That executive action can be overturned by Trump unilaterally, just as Obama implemented it entirely on his own.
Since the election, Trump has softened his rhetoric somewhat. Where he once said he would deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, he has since suggested he would focus on 2 million to 3 million who have committed crimes since arriving in the United States — an approach similar to Obama's.