Kathleen Kelm has been retired from the Army for close to 25 years, but she continues to, as she swore in her oath upon joining the service, protect the U.S. Constitution.
She took part in a protest outside U.S. Rep. Andy Harris’ district office in Bel Air over President Donald J. Trump’s recent declaration of a national emergency, re-allocating more than $6 billion in federal money to fund construction of a security wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I swore ... that I would protect the Constitution — it’s my duty,” said Kelm, who retired as a major from the Army Nurse Corps in 1995 after 15 years in the service. She still lives in post housing at Aberdeen Proving Ground’s Edgewood Area.
More than 50 people, bundled up against the cold winds, stood along Churchville Road for about an hour, holding signs and waving to traffic. The protest, which was across the street from Harris’ office in the Terlyn Square center, was one of many protests that happened around Maryland and the nation during the Presidents Day holiday.
The protests, or “rapid-response events,” were organized through MoveOn, which on its website encouraged people to attend a “Presidents Day Protest” against “an illegal power grab from an unhinged man to push his racist, dangerous policies.”
Trump announced the emergency declaration during a press conference at the White House last Friday. He stressed that the wall — a promise he made while running for president in 2015 and 2016, insisting that Mexico would pay for it — must be built to stop the flow of drugs and human trafficking across the U.S.’ southern border.
The federal government was partially shut down over 35 days in December and January after Trump and congressional Democrats could not come to an agreement over funding for the border wall. The president and Congress narrowly avoided another shutdown last week when they reached a budget agreement that included more than $1.3 billion for 55 miles of new fencing along the border.
Trump, who had hinted during the shutdown that he would declare an emergency to get wall funding, did so on Friday despite approving the budget deal. That move freed up another $6 billion that has already been allocated for other uses, such as military capital construction projects.
The move has been criticized in many circles as violating the Constitution, as Congress has the authority under Article I, Section 9, to draw and appropriate funds from the U.S. Treasury.
“This is taxation without representation; my representatives have limited the money to the wall,” said Kelm, the Army veteran, noting Congress had not authorized spending up to $8 billion. “[Trump] is specifically trying to subvert the Congress, subvert the Constitution, subvert Article I.”
Harris, a Republican who represents Maryland’s First District in the House of Representatives, expressed his support for Trump’s declaration in a statement issued Friday. His office had not returned a request for comment on the protest as of Monday evening.
“I support the president’s efforts to fully fund comprehensive border security by re-allocating unused funds from other programs, such as counter-narcotics programs directly related to the flow of illegal drugs across our southern border,” Harris said in his statement.
He cited a recent seizure — the largest ever by U.S. Customs and Border Protection — of the powerful painkiller fentanyl at an official port of entry in Nogales, Ariz., trafficking of women and girls and criminal activity by gangs such as MS-13, a gang Harris called “a serious threat to our communities in Maryland.”
“The president has worked hard to secure our border, and I support his decision to declare a state of emergency to protect our national security,” Harris stated.
DeLane Lewis, of the community group Together We Will-Harford County/Upper Chesapeake, which has worked with other community groups to hold other protests in front of Harris’ office over the past two years, led the crowd in chants.
Many drivers on Churchville Road honked their horns in support of protesters, while some people shouted their support for Trump and the wall from their vehicles.
“I try not to listen too much,” Port Deposit resident Lisa Kinney said of the negative comments.
Kinney, who participated in the protest with her 18-year-old daughter, Alison, and some of Alison’s friends, called the emergency declaration “a way around Congress.”
“It is a descent into authoritarianism if it’s not stopped,” she said.
Kinney said she is “heartened and encouraged to see the young peoples’ commitment to democracy.”
Alison Kinney, who is home schooled, echoed her mother’s concerns about the ramifications of Trump’s declaration.
“This is just a step to far, into a slide toward autocracy, and I’m out here fighting that,” she said.
Fallston resident Jean Sack gave an Aegis reporter copies of a letter she plans to deliver to Harris. In it, she urges the congressman to join with his colleagues in Congress who are opposed to Trump’s declaration and override it.
“Those of your who were elected to our legislative branch should reaffirm the role of Congress in a balance of power that restricts the seizure of unlimited powers by our Executive Branch,” Sack wrote.
Sack, in a later interview, recalled when her family worked with local churches to help 23 Vietnamese refugee families resettle in the Baltimore area in 1975.
“I really think that we need the international mix that we get when we have new Americans coming in,” she said.
Marina Smiley, a Parkville resident, attended with her 12-year-old son, Sam. Smiley immigrated to the U.S. from Russia in 2003, and she noted her son’s father is an immigrant from Iran.
“This country is an immigrant country,” she said of the U.S.
Sam Smiley, a sixth grader at Pine Grove Middle School in Parkville, said he thinks “people should stop building walls and start building bridges.”
“Hopefully, our president can actually listen to us about what we believe and maybe act accordingly,” he said.