Rep. Andy Harris (left) and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz
Rep. Andy Harris (left) and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

What began on Monday as a call for support for undocumented college students from one of Baltimore County’s top officials is morphing into a politically motivated dispute between him and Republican Maryland congressman Andy Harris.

Kamenetz issued a public call earlier this week for Maryland’s governor, lawmakers and college administrators to protect students who arrived in the country illegally as children but have received permission to study here under the federal DACA program. He also wrote the he told county police they shouldn’t assist feds with deporting any students from Baltimore County’s colleges once Donald Trump steps into the White House. Kamenetz’s letter was prompted by widespread concern on campuses about whether Trump will decide to send in federal agents to identify and deport their undocumented classmates and staff members. A number of college presidents, including a couple who Kamenetz addressed in his letter, have voiced support for their undocumented students.

In response, Republican Rep. Andy Harris, who represents the Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties, wrote Kamenetz a somewhat threatening letter. In it, he wrote that the county official’s call to “defy federal immigration law” was “a risky gambit,” since Congress can withhold funding for jurisdictions offering sanctuary to illegal immigrants.

As for the threatening portion, he wrote, “I fear that your lack of respect for federal law may result in budgetary consequences under which hard-working Baltimore County taxpayers would suffer.”

Yesterday afternoon, Kamenetz responded with a follow-up letter in which he called Harris’ suggestions “disturbing,” since he’s only signaling support for the DACA program, which already exists under federal law (but could be halted by Trump).

“Our efforts in Baltimore County uphold current federal policy, not defy it,” he wrote. He noted that Maryland voters themselves have shared similar feelings of support for undocumented students by voting the Dream Act into law in 2012. The Maryland Dream Act lets undocumented Maryland high schoolers get in-state tuition and financial aid at public schools if they meet certain requirements.

All in all, Kamenetz was generally dismissive of the Republican congressman’s threats about funding cuts, labeling them “astounding” and “unconscionable.”

“Your letter has further inflamed, and frankly, scared people needlessly,” he concluded.

The conversation over Kamenetz’s original message is turning into mostly just political posturing. Still, it’s noteworthy because it shows us how Maryland’s elected officials feel about the implications of a Trump presidency, particularly for undocumented residents. Harris likely won’t get much support from his colleagues who represent Maryland in Congress since they’re all Democrats, but they could chime in as well. County officials from around the region may also follow in the footsteps of Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler and offer some curveball suggestions as well.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...

One reply on “Battle of Letters Brews Between County Executive Kamenetz, Rep. Andy Harris”

  1. I’m not a fan of Rep. Harris but I’m glad someone (in addition to Sheriff Gahler) is pushing back on Kamenetz’s foolishness. Kamenetz either has no shame or zero self awareness when he responds that Harris’ letter “has further inflamed, and frankly, scared people needlessly” when it is Kamenetez’s OWN LETTER that has caused needless fear over proposals made by no one. As a Baltimore County resident, I am ashamed of Kamenetz’s cynical grandstanding (the only point of which I assume is to position himself for a Democratic gubernatorial primary).

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