By Grace Bird
MONTGOMERY COUNTY- Residents of Montgomery County spoke out about a proposal to define Rockville as a sanctuary for undocumented people in a divisive hearing on Monday.
89 residents of Montgomery County signed up to speak, each limited to three minutes.
Critics were wary of evading the law; supporters contended Rockville’s responsibility to protect its most vulnerable residents. 35% of Rockville’s residents are foreign-born, according to the census between 2011 and 2015.
“If you’re a living, breathing human, you’re loved by God,” Rev. of LGBT-friendly Twinbrook Baptist Church, Jill McCrory, who spoke in support of the ordinance, said. Last week, McCrory received a message that threatened to expose Twinbrook’s undocumented churchgoers to law enforcement, she said.
“I urge you to love your neighbor, even if that neighbor is undocumented,” she said.
Councilperson Julie Palakovich Carr, sponsor of the Feb. 27 proposal, said the ordinance complies with federal law.
“People are scared by what’s happening within the federal government and they need some clarity about how we will not take part in ICE raids,” Palakovich Carr said.
The proposed ordinance will prohibit police from asking any person, from pedestrians to petty criminals, to disclose their immigrant status unless convicted of a serious crime like child abuse, assault, rape, or handgun violence, Palakovich Carr said.
“Nothing will change,” she said. “Practices will simply be formalized.”
The ordinance amends Chapter 11 of the Rockville City Code, entitled “Human Rights,” to include a new section: 11-3, “Fostering Community Trust,” to “enhance the quality of life of all its residents, including immigrants.”
Palakovich Carr said she excluded the term “sanctuary city” in the ordinance to avoid its ambiguous, controversial connotation.
Supporters of the ordinance contested that the White House has no constitutional right to threaten states to enforce federal policies.
“Rockville has long had a policy to follow federal law, but not to do the federal government’s job for it,” former Rockville councilperson of four years, Tom Moore, said. “This is not the moment for informal protections.”
Rockville’s Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, urged speakers to exit the room after presenting their case. Two other rooms displayed the hearing on televisions.
Students have are terrified — some have failed to attend or have dropped out, said Robert Frost Middle School teacher, Melissa Porter-Parks and Leah Wilson.
“Our students have a right to feel safe at school,” Porter-Parks said.
Undocumented students are terrified of fire alarms, and uniformed workers — even nurses, Wilson said.
Many immigrants, particularly Chinese-Americans, opposed the ordinance — a surprise to Palakovich Carr, she said.
Wangjun Qin immigrated to the US two decades ago. After ten years of “patiently waiting,” Qin was awarded a visa.
“Nobody should be above the law,” Qin said.
Shuo Huang argued many Chinese-Americans like himself, had directly benefitted from a national policy of sanctuary in George H.W. Bush’s 1990 Executive Order. The EO, a response to the Tianenmen Square Massacre, granted Chinese immigrants lawful residency to 1994.
“I was this close to being an undocumented person myself,” Huang, a Harvard and Brown graduate said. “Everything about my story stands out as the American dream.”
Many speakers in opposition of the ordinance claimed undocumented immigrants were violent and murderous.
“What I don’t want to see happen with the police is to have these gentlemen here, and…have their head blown off by an M.S. 13 guy,” Rockville resident of over forty-years, Sam Lerner said. “Because their partner wasn’t allowed to call ICE and get him out of this country.”
Lerner said he is an “equal opportunity deporter,” and he called for the deportation of all violent criminals — the native-born, as well as immigrants.
“We don’t want them here,” Lerner said.
Immigrants are statistically less likely to commit crimes than US-born citizens. Additionally, higher immigration correlates with lower crime rates. 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18 – 39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born, according to a study by the American Immigration Council.
Between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born segment of the US population increased from 7.9 to 13.1 percent. The number of undocumented immigrants tripled, from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. In the same period, violent crime declined by 48 percent, and property theft by 41 percent, the study indicates.
The hearing was adjourned at 11:48pm, five hours and eight minutes after its 6:40pm start.
The proposal will be resolved “very soon” — in two meetings’ time, Palakovich Carr said.
“Laws can be passed more quickly at a local level,” she said.