U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (left) and Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (left) and Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is getting some pushback from elected officials over his letter asking Gov. Hogan, state and federal lawmakers and local college administrators to protect law-abiding undocumented students from a Trump administration.

Kamanetz’s letter addressed the issue of undocumented students potentially losing protections to remain in Maryland to get an education. It wasn’t addressed to any law enforcement officials, though he did say he has already advised the chief of the Baltimore County Police Department to provide no help to immigration agents should they want to set foot on the county’s campuses to deport students once Trump takes office.

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler felt strongly enough about Kamenetz’s public call to officials to write him a critical response. In a letter dated Tuesday, Nov. 29, Gahler wrote that he was “challenging our Governor to stop something that has not started, or even to my knowledge been promoted by our President Elect.”

He also asked Kamenetz if he would have Baltimore County join the federal 287(g) program, in which state and local law enforcement identify illegal aliens in the correctional system so that they can deported once they finish their sentences. Harford County joined the program earlier this year, agreeing to check all of its inmates’ immigration status.

Kamenetz should have Baltimore County do the same, Gahler wrote, in part because “as a neighboring county, we know that crime issues and criminals do not recognize our jurisdictional boundaries and making Baltimore County safer makes Harford County safer.”

As Gahler noted, the program is a product of the Obama administration led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and will likely continue under Donald Trump. The president-elect has pledged repeatedly while campaigning and since being elected to deport millions of immigrants from the country, beyond just inmates, most likely. Trump hasn’t specified whether that effort would target students.

Those promises have made many undocumented college students in the United States uneasy, even those who have secured permission from the government to remain here to study under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Many of them, as well as their college administrators, are concerned Trump will suspend DACA or stop granting students extensions to remain here once he takes office. In response, a handful of Maryland college presidents, as well as the state university system’s chancellor, have signed onto a petition that urges Trump to continue the program. Kamenetz’s letter on Tuesday urged lawmakers and Gov. Hogan to help protect DACA.

Gahler wasn’t the only elected official to push back at Kamenetz. Rep. Andy Harris, one of the lawmakers cc’d in his letter and the state’s only Republican U.S. House rep, wrote in a response to the county executive that he doesn’t appear to understand that federal law supersedes state and local law. He also wrote that Kamenetz should know a large contingent of Congress hopes to withhold funding of so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions for immigrants.

“As consideration of both FY17 and FY18 federal appropriations bills loom, I hope that you reconsider your position,” Harris wrote. “Otherwise, I fear that your lack of respect for federal law may result in budgetary consequences under which hard-working Baltimore County taxpayers would suffer. Yours is a risky gambit.”

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...

5 replies on “Harford Sheriff Prods, While Rep. Harris Warns Kamenetz About Immigration Stand”

  1. I’m so proud of Baltimore County Executive Kamenetz for standing tall for DACA. We all need to push back, if that gets questioned. Thank you for reaching out to stop President Elect Trump’s potential biases.

  2. When Mr. McLoed writes, “to protect law-abiding undocumented students from a Trump Administration.” he is wrong it two ways. The correct term is “illegal alien” whether they are enrolled in school or whatever they are doing. They are not “law-abiding”, because they are in the USA illegally. undocumented worker/student/whatever = illegal alien, the correct term the Federal Government and Supreme Court, aside from Justice Sotomayor uses for illegal aliens. “Undocumented” is the kind of politically correct nonsense word that inspired the uneducated deplorables to make Donald Trump our President-elect.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mike. I’ve chosen to go with “undocumented” in my phrasing because, as you noted, it is the politically correct label. The term “illegal alien” has picked up a racially charged connotation over the last decade, and many Latinos consider it to be an offensive label that paints one ethnicity with a broad brush. Additionally, many of the students who I am referring to have obtained permission to be here under the DACA program. To call them “illegal” would be ignoring the fact that they have received permission to be here studying.

      Many major newspapers have dropped the term “illegal” from their stylebooks in favor of using “undocumented” or “unauthorized,” though usage varies: http://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/illegal_immigrant_or_undocumented.php.

      “Law-abiding” refers to their lawful behavior on college campuses, i.e. those who haven’t been charged with a crime during their stay here.

    2. Ethan – thanks for the helpful clarification although I would quibble with the idea that a particular word or phrase should be used just because it is politically correct. Also, I fail to see how “illegal alien” is “racially charged” since anyone – Latino, Asian, European, etc. – that is in the US illegally is an illegal alien. Finally, illegal aliens in the US under DACA ARE illegally in the US as DACA is an executive order only without the force of law. However, if we concede your point and DACA is revoked by President Trump, will those “law-abiding undocumented students” then be referred to as illegal aliens since they would then be here illegally? Sorry for the long post and I really do appreciate your response.

    3. Hi Scott,

      Thanks for your reply as well. I would say that in keeping with politically correct language, we can avoid offending any of our readers while remaining accurate, rather than doing it just to be politically correct. If the politically correct term made for an inaccurate description, I’d go with the more accurate option.

      As for how the phrase has become “racially charged,” I think that’s been reflected in coverage over the years that has dehumanized people coming to the United States mostly from Latin America. If publications or networks identify people as “illegal” without regard to the circumstances that have led them to our country, I feel it doesn’t properly reflect them as a group. The Library of Congress adopted that same rationale when it chose to eliminate the use of the phrase in cataloging of media this past March, noting that “the phrase illegal aliens has taken on a pejorative tone in recent years.”

      Were President-elect Trump to reverse that order and get rid of the program, I would still stick with phrasing that achieves a balance between being accurate and not being offensive.

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