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GOP members on Baltimore County Council to propose immigration screening in jail

Republican members of the Baltimore County Council are seeking to require the county's jail to participate in a controversial federal immigration screening program.

If the three Republicans can get a bill passed, they are facing a certain veto from Democratic County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who dismissed the effort as inspired by President Donald J. Trump.

"I'm certainly dismayed that the three Republicans are attempting to inject a little of this Trump fever that they've been infected with," Kamenetz said.

The Republican council members — Todd Crandell, Wade Kach and David Marks — plan to introduce legislation on May 1 that would call for Baltimore County to join a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement program known as 287(g).

In that program, federal ICE officials train correctional officers to screen people who have been arrested for possible immigration violations.

"This is not a witch hunt. This is coordination," said Kach, a Cockeysville Republican. "After all, we owe it to the people of Baltimore County to keep our neighborhoods as safe as possible."

Frederick County has had a 287(g) program in place for a few years, Harford County is starting its program and Anne Arundel has applied to join the program.

Proponents of 287(g) say it's a way for local governments to help federal officials by flagging potential immigration violations. Some argue it's OK to investigate people in custody, because there is probable cause that they have committed a crime.

"I think the fact it's targeting criminals creates a bit of a comfort level with some people," said Marks, a Perry Hall Republican. "There's a lot of rhetoric out there, but we're focusing on those who have been charged with criminal offenses."

Opponents of the program say it's inappropriate for local governments to get involved in a federal issue such as immigration. And they fear it will erode trust between county officials and local immigrant communities.

State lawmakers considered a bill during the recently-completed General Assembly session called the Maryland Trust Act that would have put an end to such programs by prohibiting the use of local resources for helping with immigration. The bill, which was inspired by the president's proposal for stricter immigration enforcement and attempts to temporarily ban entry to the U.S. from several Muslim-majority countries, ultimately failed.

As that bill headed toward failure, Kamenetz issued an executive order stating the county jail would not detain anyone past their release date unless ICE officials present a court order. The order also prohibits police officers from asking people about their immigration status.

Both elements of the order were already existing policy in the county.

"We are a county that adheres to solid policing policies," Kamenetz said.

Council Chairman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said he felt the announcement of the Republicans' bills was "a political stunt." He said he has asked for a draft of the legislation but has not received one yet.

"It just seems more political theater than substance," he said. "I'll have to review what they're proposing, but I need something on paper."

The Republicans plan to introduce the bill at a council meeting in May.

They're also looking at whether they can require businesses to use a federal system known as E-Verify to check whether prospective employees are legally eligible to work in the United States.

Kach said he has gotten conflicting legal advice as to whether the county can mandate that private companies use E-Verify.

"I'm hoping that we're able to do it," he said.

Marks said he wants to look closely at the E-Verify issue. While he doesn't want to place a burden on businesses, he wants to "make sure that we're creating business opportunities, particularly for those that are here legally."

Republicans hold three of the seven seats on the council. To pass their bills, they'd need to win over one Democrat. To counteract Kamenetz's veto, they'd need to get two Democrats to vote with them.

Marks thinks that's possible.

"The county council has shown itself to be conservative and moderate on other issues," he said. "I think there's a reasonable chance you can have four or five members supporting them."

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