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After immigration bill fails, Kittleman and Weinstein call for county-wide policy review

From left, Hector Garcia, executive director of FIRN, County Council Chairman Jon Weinstein and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman reaffirm the county's commitment to inclusiveness for all Wednesday.
From left, Hector Garcia, executive director of FIRN, County Council Chairman Jon Weinstein and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman reaffirm the county's commitment to inclusiveness for all Wednesday. (Staff photo by Fatimah Waseem)

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman reaffirmed the county's commitment to inclusiveness and equality, regardless of immigration status, Wednesday afternoon.

The announcement comes on the heels of a failed council bill, vetoed by Kittleman, that would have codified protections in the county for non-documented immigrants.

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Kittleman said he was disheartened by divisive language and fear in immigrant and minority communities stemming from President Donald J. Trump's administration's actions. He is directing the local police department to review its policies to continue to ensure the department does not deny services based on immigration status or inquire for an individual's immigration status.

An attempt to reaffirm protections for undocumented immigrants died Monday night in Howard County when local lawmakers failed to nix Republican County Executive Allan Kittleman's veto of a controversial bill that ignited a microcosm of the national debate on immigration in the wealthy suburban jurisdiction.

Kittleman called for a broad review of existing policies and formalized the creation of a committee that grew out of a public campaign he launched in late November to promote the county's commitment to equality.

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"We cannot solve every problem through legislation," Kittleman said.

County Council Chairman Jon Weinstein, a Democrat who opposed the failed bill, said the initiative will ensure existing policies are easily to understand and accessible to the community.

"Over the past several weeks there has been an unfortunate focus on the division in our community over this issue. What have not been highlighted are the constructive conversations and specific actions that people across Howard County have undertaken to address these concerns," Weinstein said.

The police department will complete the review by the end of April. State and federal laws and agreements would trump local policies, a similar provision included in the failed bill.

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Kittleman said it was not enough to tout Howard County's diversity and commitment to civility.

"What these past few months have shown ... is that celebrating diversity alone is not enough, because even in our diversity, we are sometimes still separated into silos. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," he said.

Local and state officials denounced President Donald Trump's revised executive order to block new visas to the United States from six Muslim-majority countries March 7, delivering a sharp rebuke against Trump at standing-room-only town hall in Columbia organized by local Muslim advocacy organizations.

All county departments will also review their policies.

The campaign, called #OneHoward, will include community conversations, training to promote dialogue and expanded partnership with local organizations to strengthen trust in county government. David Lee, the county's head of Community Partnerships and Constituent Services, will lead the effort.

Leaders at the Foreign-born Information Referral Network, an organization that works with undocumented and documented immigrants; and HopeWorks, an organization that works with victims of domestic violence, reaffirmed their commitment to work with the county.

"The best way to provide safety to our foreign-born community is to ensure no one gets left behind in their path to citizenship," said Hector Garcia, executive director of FIRN.

Still, community groups like Together We Will Howard County, a progressive advocacy group that aims to build a safe and inclusive community, lamented Kittleman and Weinstein's approach to the issue at a time of increased uncertainty stemming from the Trump administration's immigration bans.

"It seems to be more toothless symbolism. We need strong leadership in the form of codified procedures as opposed to the commissions and promises we've been hearing," said Becca Niburg, a co-chairwoman of the group. "What the police department is doing right now is great, but that's not to say that can be changed."

After weeks of stirring the boiling pot of debate over immigration policies, the Howard County Council this week neutered legislation that would have declared the county a "sanctuary" for undocumented immigrants. The council, on a 3-2 vote, approved rules that prohibit police and county workers from enforcing immigration laws or asking people whether they are in the country legally.

Kittleman said he is opposed to Trump's latest executive order announced Monday, which limits immigration from six Muslim-majority countries.

"People are concerned about some of the policies that are going on at the federal level," Kittleman said. "We want to make sure everyone knows … they don't need to be uncertain here."



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