With Death of Kevin Kamenetz, Maryland has Lost a Fierce Fighter for Immigrant Justice

BALTIMORE (THURSDAY, MAY 10, 2018) _  CASA and its members are mourning the unexpected passing of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, relentless immigrant advocate and public servant.

“All of us at CASA are saddened to hear about the passing of Kevin Kamenetz, who rejected hatred and exclusion throughout his life in public service,” said Gustavo Torres, CASA Executive Director. “Few are familiar with just how extensively Kevin transformed Baltimore County from a sometimes hostile bellwether jurisdiction into a stellar example of welcoming in two short terms as executive. Today, our members mourn his passing.”

 

“He always showed us that we had a friend driven by respect, empathy, and humanity at the highest level of county government,” said Owings Mills resident and CASA member Isabel Aguilar. “Kevin was a role model for others in elected office to emulate in this dark moment in history, leaving behind his policies as gifts for us immigrant parents.”

 

Kamenetz’s advocacy for the immigrant community and relationship with CASA began at a candidate debate in 2010 during his first run for County Executive. Immigration had already become a tense issue in the race. Kamenetz faced down the crowd of African-American, Latino, and White county residents and proudly claimed his support for the Maryland Dream Act. While Baltimore County voters ultimately supported the issue at referendum, that was not a sure result in 2010 in a jurisdiction in which even some Democratic legislators attacked college access for DREAMers. The immigrant community had met a leader that could transform the county.

 

Like the very best of allies, Kamenetz often centered his support for today’s immigrants in his own family’s history of migration to escape persecution. As he said, “I firmly believe that we have a moral obligation to stand up for those threatened by bigotry.”

 

Across his years as County Executive, Kamenetz fulfilled the promise of that first debate. When community members complained about overreach by police and corrections, he assigned his top deputies to resolve the crisis through reforming collaboration practices. When Maryland Senate leadership blocked passage of the TRUST Act last year, Kamenetz immediately signed a County Executive Order outlawing detention of immigrants for ICE pick-up and discrimination by any county employee, including police, on the basis of immigration status.

 

When Republicans on the County Council tried to pass a bill requiring the County to sign up for an ICE collaboration contract, Kamenetz lobbied against the ultimately unsuccessful bill and promised to veto it if it reached his desk. As the administration in Washington cancelled protections for immigrant youth, Kamenetz wrote to the presidents of Baltimore County’s five colleges reassuring them that County Police will not enter their campuses in order to identify DACA students. In response to the Trump administration’s discriminatory Muslim ban, Kamenetz signed the County up as a Welcoming Jurisdiction in a part of a national campaign to challenge the animus in Washington.

 

His leadership was particularly important both because the county had been considered hostile to immigrants and remains a jurisdiction in which some of the worst overreaches by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) occur.

 

“Under his leadership, immigrant county residents finally felt represented by a man they considered a friend,” said CASA’s Director of Organizing Elizabeth Alex. “He will be missed.”

 

CASA sends our sincerest condolences to his wife and two children as they face this difficult time.