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Trump order on 'sanctuary' cities draws praise, concern; DeWees reports few problems

President Trump's executive order to strip federal funding from "sanctuary cities" could impact several local governments. (Baltimore Sun video)

The executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday to strip federal funding from jurisdictions that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants drew both praise and alarm in Maryland.

The order likely sets up a showdown between the Trump administration and local governments in a state where seven colleges have declared themselves sanctuary campuses, lawmakers in Howard County want to declare a sanctuary county, and police generally don't ask the people they stop about their immigration status.

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Rep. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican who represents parts of Carroll County, praised the action.

He warned that local governments and colleges "could stand to lose hundreds of thousands in federal funding" if they don't cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.

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"Most jurisdictions in Maryland share the president's belief that illegal immigrants who are here and commit crimes should be deported," said Harris, the only Republican in Maryland's congressional delegation.

"If some head of a jurisdiction wants to grandstand on this issue, their federal funding will be in jeopardy."

Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said the county has had few problems with illegal immigrants committing crimes.

"In my two years as sheriff, my office hasn't come across a person who we could prove was here illegally and has committed a crime," DeWees said.

Elizabeth Alex, regional director for the immigrant advocate group CASA Baltimore, called the order "devastating for hundreds of families in the Baltimore area."

Alex said CASA is encouraging Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and other officials to remain steadfast in their support of immigrants.

"They should not be afraid to call the police," Alex said.

Trump signed two executive orders on immigration Wednesday. In addition to addressing sanctuary jurisdictions, he directed the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border — a key campaign pledge — and ordered 10,000 more immigration enforcement officers.

The term "sanctuary" is used by both advocates for immigrants and opponents of illegal immigration to describe jurisdictions in which officials do not ordinarily try to verify an individual's immigration status before they may receive government services.

Trump said local jurisdictions that do not keep information about the immigration status of individuals and send it to the federal government when asked will be ineligible for federal funds "except as mandated by law."

He also directed his administration to "make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens."

Although the Carroll County Sheriff's Office doesn't specifically seek out individuals who might be here illegally, DeWees said he believes anyone who has come to the country should go through the process to obtain legal citizenship.

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He said that if his office came across an undocumented immigrant who had committed a crime and could be properly identified as being here illegally, "we would hold them until they could be deported," he said.

Detainers are requests by the federal government to local jurisdictions to hold suspects who are in the country illegally until they can be picked up by immigration enforcement officers. The state under Gov. Martin O'Malley and several counties stopped honoring detainers in recent years.

Jessica Vaughan is director of policy studies for the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes illegal immigration. She said the order could put federal funding for police in Baltimore and Montgomery and Prince George's counties in jeopardy.

Vaughan said it's less likely the Trump administration would go after the funding of local colleges.

Baltimore police do not routinely ask individuals about their immigration status, spokesman T.J. Smith said. But officers would comply with a federal request for information about a detained person, he said.

A spokesman for the Maryland prison system said the state under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan complies with federal immigration orders and requests, including at its jail in Baltimore.

"Our warrant unit notifies U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement immediately when we have a person in custody that has a wanted detainer," Shields said. "Upon completion of local charges, the federal agency is notified to pick up the person if we have received a copy of a judicial warrant. The warrant gives the state the authority to hold a person for 48 hours."

Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball said he was moving forward with legislation that would designate the county as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

The bill would prohibit county employees from voluntarily helping federal employees enforce federal immigration law. It would also prohibit discrimination and bar inquiries into citizenship.

Ball said Wednesday that he was still evaluating the implications of Trump's order for the county.

The council could vote on the bill in early February, he said. He said the debate has consequences that will be felt for generations.

"President Trump's executive order reaffirms how important it is for us to be having this community conversation about immigration and our responsibility as a local government at this point in time," Ball said. "There are strong feelings about what role local government should play in enforcement of federal immigration laws, and as President Trump's actions evolve, this conversation will evolve."

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has supported efforts by universities to create "sanctuary campuses." He has directed county police to avoid taking part in efforts to identify the immigration status of students.

His spokeswoman, Ellen Kobler, said Wednesday that his position remained unchanged.

Harris has sparred with Kamenetz, a Democrat, over the issue.

"I hope that Baltimore County comes to its senses," Harris said. "Putting funding in jeopardy for the sole purpose of not complying with federal law is foolish."

Mike Lurie, a spokesman for the University System of Maryland, said it was too early to comment until the system learns more about implications of the executive order.

The system's approach, he said, has been to provide "all of our students a safe and supportive educational environment.

"We will continue to comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations."

Carroll County Times staff contributed to this story.

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