Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, a Republican, said today that he would veto a proposal by two local Democratic council members that would make Howard County a sanctuary jurisdiction for undocumented immigrants.
Kittleman called the proposal a "hollow political statement" that provides a false sense of security, compromises community safety and could compromise federal funding for critical programs and services.
"I am not willing to jeopardize existing programs and services which benefit all Howard County residents to adopt a label that would not change any of the policies and practices that we already have in place," Kittleman wrote in a statement released Thursday evening.
Council members Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa proposed the measure in a direct response to what they said were "dangerous sentiments" galvanized by President-elect Donald Trump. The designation, which has no formal legal definition, would bar county employees, including police, from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
The Howard County Council could vote on the proposal as early as Feb. 6. Councilman Greg Fox, the only Republican on the five-member legislative body, opposes the proposal, which he dismissed as political posturing that could make the county a haven for illegal immigrants.
To override a veto, the council must gain four votes in favor of the bill — one more than what the bill needs to pass.
Even if the council passes the measure, state and federal law would trump the local designation. A catch-all phrase in the bill states all federal and state laws preempt the sanctuary title.
Kittleman said the bill does nothing to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, citing that the U.S. Supreme Court charges the federal government with enforcing all immigration law.
The bill could also put federal funds and community safety on the line, Kittleman said. Trump has pledged to strip jurisdictions that claim sanctuary titles of federal funding within the first 100 days of his term.
Kittleman said the county's law enforcement relies on its partnership with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the federal body tasked with enforcing immigration law, to target drug activity, human trafficking and child pornography.
Still, the Republican reaffirmed his commitment to building a "welcoming, inclusive and safe community."
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"While we have laws in place against hate crimes, we also know that no law or policy can prevent all acts of racism or prejudice," Kittleman said.
As a state senator in 2011, Kittleman voted against a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Maryland community colleges; and in 2013, he voted against loosening driver licensing requirements for undocumented immigrants.
Terrasa and Ball believe the sanctuary designation is a proactive step to reaffirm the county's commitment to immigrants and minorities.
The sanctuary movement gained nationwide attention in July when an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times to Mexico allegedly shot to death Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco. Before the incident, local police released the man from jail, despite a request from the Department of Homeland Security to deport him.
More than 300 jurisdictions throughout the country, including Takoma Park, Montgomery County and Baltimore City, have passed a hodgepodge of policies, laws and orders to create sanctuaries that generally restrict state and local governments from alerting federal law enforcement about people who immigrated to the country illegally.
Some designations are symbolic while others have legal implications.
The council will hear public testimony at its public hearing at 6 p.m. on Jan. 17 in the George Howard building in Ellicott City. The council is scheduled to vote on all legislation introduced in January on Feb. 6.