SEABROOK – Immigration has the whole state buzzing, and while a sanctuary state measure moves forward in the Maryland General Assembly, the city of Hyattsville has officially opened a city council discussion on the matter. On March 20, at a regularly scheduled city council meeting, the Hyattsville council discussed for the first time publically an […]
SEABROOK – Immigration has the whole state buzzing, and while a sanctuary state measure moves forward in the Maryland General Assembly, the city of Hyattsville has officially opened a city council discussion on the matter.
On March 20, at a regularly scheduled city council meeting, the Hyattsville council discussed for the first time publically an ordinance that would officially make the municipality a sanctuary city. The discussion before the council came after several weeks of discussion throughout the city and on the city’s listserv about an ordinance Councilman Patrick Paschall filed earlier in the year.
And though the legislation would give Hyattsville the sanctuary designation officially, city Police Chief Douglas Holland said the bill largely puts into writing what the department has already done for a long time.
“Our agency has been working very hard for many, many years now to gain the trust, to gain the confidence of the public and to make people feel comfortable coming to us, particularly if they are victims of crime,” Holland said.
The specific bill before the council, which will likely be filed for a first reading at the next council meeting, has been changed slightly since its filing earlier this year. The city’s attorney, E.I. Cornbrooks, IV, said he worked with the bill’s motion makers to assure its legal standing and safeguard the city from any possible retribution.
The motion drew a large number of concerns from citizens during a public hearing on March 1. Many residents raised alarm at the possibility of the city losing federal funds and grants due to the sanctuary designation. Others cautioned the city would possibly be going against the constitution.
However, with his slight revisions, Cornbrooks, IV said he believes the edits put the ordinance within Hyattsville’s authority without outright going against federal laws and mandates, and said he didn’t believe anything in the motion “asks the police to violate the law.”
“I think many of the concerns, with one small exception, that we discussed have been addressed in the current version of the ordinance,” he said. “The gist of it is that I think we have arrived at a compromise that allows the city to legislate in an area where it has the lawful authority to do so with built-in exceptions.”
As it stands, the sanctuary city bill is largely one stating that Hyattsville will have a non-intervention policy regarding immigration enforcement efforts. The bill states that the city police are not trained in immigration enforcement and the city will not use “resources to enforce federal immigration laws.”
Additionally, the bill safeguards residents against discrimination based on immigration status, having their status used as leverage against them or as an interrogation tool, and states the city will not retain information about a person’s status.
It does, however, state that the bill should “not be construed as prohibiting” the city police from investigating, detaining or arresting violators of criminal law nor prohibit them from assisting other law enforcement with criminal law cases, other than immigration and nationality laws.
“These policies are key to public trust in our government, and especially police, institutions. Hyattsville has established a community-based policing model whereby officers are part of the fabric of our community,” Paschall’s memo on the motion reads. “To utilize local law enforcement to target minority populations in Hyattsville for federal immigration enforcement would undermine our city’s efforts to ensure public trust in our local law enforcement agencies.”
A supermajority of the council sponsored the sanctuary city motion when it was submitted and introduced officially on the dais, with only Councilwomen Ruth Ann Frazier and Paula Perry’s names absent from the document, and many council members voiced their support for the measure and for the city’s immigrant population.
Both Paschall and Councilman Robert Croslin spoke of friends and acquaintances who have struggled with the country’s immigration offices, procedures and policies. Paschall noted that immigrating properly is not as cut and dry as it seems, according to his friend.
“A very close friend of mine, who had been in this country since the age of 10, and did immigrate on a green card and was lawfully present, but due to an administrative snafu at the customs agency, he thought authorized for a renewal green card, they put the wrong date on it. And he suddenly was in unlawfully present status,” he said. “And they advised him over the phone, that if he were to show up in their office to get it fixed, he would be arrested and deported because of their error.”
Paschall said it took his friend “years and thousands of dollars” to obtain United States citizenship, and it was that friend’s experience that really sparked Paschall’s determination to seek sanctuary designation for the city.
Other members of the council, such as Shani Warner, also noted their support for the bill.
“We already are (a sanctuary city),” Warner said. “Whether we pass this or not. Whatever we do, it has been the practice. What people call a sanctuary city is what the practice of the city of Hyattsville has been for years. It is what it currently is.”
However, Frazier and Perry both approached the bill with hesitance. Perry questioned if the city police would still be able to do their jobs to the fullest extent, using “every resource possible” if the bill was passed, and specifically asked how gang violence would be handled.
Holland assured that the police department would still be able to do its job and operate the way it is currently.
On the other hand, Frazier was adamant that the bill would force her to break her oath of office, which she noted was very important to her.
“I took an oath of office that meant a lot to me,” Frazier said. “Now you’re telling me that it’s not intended to me to go against this oath, but I am doing it… I feel that I am.”
At the state level, Maryland’s legislative leaders are also discussing sanctuary measures at the same time as Hyattsville considers sanctuary designation. The state House of Delegates recently passed the Maryland Law Enforcement and Trust Act, which states immigration status should not be inquired after and limits the state’s role in federal immigration enforcements actions.
The bill specifically states it will insure “information collected from individuals is limited to that which is necessary to perform agency duties, does not include inquiries into immigration status unless required by federal law or necessary to make a determination of eligibility, and is not used or disclosed for any other purpose.”
It also prohibits law enforcement from “stopping, arresting, searching or detaining an individual for the purpose of investigating a suspected immigration violation or inquiring about certain matters,” and also prohibits the creation of a “database” and requires all public schools, hospitals and courthouses to establish and publish policies both stating that those community resources are open to residents regardless of immigration status and also limit immigration enforcement at those locations.
“All public schools, hospitals and courthouses shall establish and publish policies that limit immigration enforcement on their premises to the fullest extent possible consistent with federal and state law,” the bill reads.
The House of Delegates passed the bill with 83 yes votes to 55 nays. The bill will now go before the state Senate and does not yet have a reading date.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan though has already warned of a possible veto if the bill is passed, calling the bill “outrageously irresponsible.”
“This legislation would interfere with our state and local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with federal law enforcement authorities,” Hogan said. “I will veto this dangerously misguided legislation the moment that it reaches my desk.”