Flanked by a collection of religious, racial, ethnic and sexual minorities this morning, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz signed an executive order barring his county’s police officers from detaining people based solely upon suspicions about their immigration status.
Under the order, county employees and officers are barred from discriminating against anyone based on their suspected immigration status, race, religion, age, sexual orientation or various other criteria. For police, this means officers will not be allowed to stop immigrants with the intention of detaining anyone lacking documentation legally allowing them to be in the United States.
Baltimore County’s new rule is the first known countywide sanctuary protection for undocumented immigrants in Maryland.
In a statement accompanying his signing of the order, Kamenetz cited the president’s push to utilize law enforcement agencies across the country to help federal immigration agents boot millions of undocumented immigrants from the United States.
“As an attorney, I am confident that the presidential effort to investigate and detain immigrants is contrary to the Constitution, and Baltimore County will not disregard the law protecting individual rights,” said Kamenetz in his prepared remarks. “The president’s directives are causing fear and panic among otherwise law abiding residents. I am particularly concerned about the impact on children, and the chilling effect that is impacting productive police-community relations.”
An example of the type of exchange Kamenetz hopes to preclude from happening is January incident in Bel Air. Police officers there stopped an Indian-American woman in her neighborhood to ask if she was allowed to be in the country. The woman turned out to be a U.S. citizen and a Bel Air resident of 30 years.
Kamenetz promised shortly after President Donald Trump was elected that Baltimore county police would not be assisting federal authorities with deporting college students in his county. What followed was a war of words with neighboring jurisdictions’ officials. Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler suggested Kamenetz join him in allowing corrections officers in his county to identify undocumented immigrants in prisons and mark them down as ready for deportation, while Rep. Andy Harris lobbed a threat that the federal government would withhold funds from his jurisdiction if he didn’t comply with federal orders.
The president made that withholding threat official in January, signing an executive order that says his administration will cut off funding to places offering “sanctuary” to those who are in the country illegally.
The president’s promise has had lasting effects. Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman vetoed a council bill that would have had a similar effect to Kamenetz’s order issued today, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he will veto a statewide sanctuary proposal if it reaches his desk. (It’s now sitting in a senate committee after passing in the House of Delegates.)
Kamenetz’s order doesn’t bar police from arresting undocumented immigrants if they have committed a crime or if officers have obtained a signed warrant for their arrest. It also says his words shouldn’t be interpreted as preventing officers from working on task forces that include federal agents or investigating other violations of criminal law by undocumented immigrants.
It does say that no individual, immigrant or citizen, can be detained beyond their court-ordered release date, unless a detainer has been issued by a judge.
In his remarks, Kamenetz criticized Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has also threatened to withhold federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions, by invoking a constitutional argument often used by proponents of increased gun rights.
“The 10th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the federal government from withholding funds to coerce counties to conform to federal policies unrelated to the appropriation,” he said. “Baltimore County adheres to the Constitution and to sound policing practices that maintain community trust among residents we are obligated to protect. Like the Muslim ban, I am confident the courts will strike down the Attorney General’s counter-productive threat.”
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