Rockville “Fostering Community Trust” supporters counter FAIR, HSM claims

“If it bleeds, it leads,” that old adage of for-profit media, reflects two unfortunate realities: (1) advertising revenue determines content and (2) consumers have an appetite for the sensational. While supporters and opponents of Rockville’s Fostering Community Trust ordinance and similar legislation haven’t drawn blood, they did face off twice in Rockville in the past week: at demonstrations/counterdemonstrations on March 26 at the County Council Building and on March 30 at the Montgomery County Board of Education. Both demonstrations were organized by Help Save Maryland (HSM), one of a couple of opponent groups with virulent anti-immigrant agendas. (The other is Federation for American Immigration Reform [FAIR], whose Northeastern Field Representative, Jonathan Hanen, spoke against the ordinance at the March 6 Mayor and Council meeting.)  We presume the news media who extensively covered both events were invited by the organizers. It’s a symbiotic relationship: the media get controversy that boosts ratings and revenue and, in return, fringe groups get coverage and legitimacy.

“Fostering Community Trust” supporters square off against anti-immigrant rights protesters across the street at the County Council Building on Sunday, March 26.  More photos here.

The news media were also present at an event held between the two demonstrations and counterdemonstrations: the March 27 Rockville Mayor and Council meeting. The proposed Fostering Community Trust ordinance dominated the Community Forum section of the meeting, but best we can tell, no one reported on it. We assume this is because there was no controversy: all 18 speakers who testified about the ordinance spoke in favor of it and in defense of the diverse, inclusive, safe community it seeks to protect. Perhaps the corollary to “if it bleeds, it leads” is “good news is no news,” but we think this is a story worth telling.

Facts Matter
Many speakers urged the Mayor and Council to rely on the facts, rather than the fear or prejudice, in their vote on the ordinance. John Appiah-Duffell, a Rockville resident, cited a recently published legal brief from the libertarian Cato Institute showing that immigrants to the United States, whether documented or undocumented, are less likely to commit crime than native born population; that programs like Secure Communities, in which local police help enforce federal immigration law, are ineffective; and that there’s a strong correlation between lower education and propensity for crime, meaning it’s in our interest to educate immigrant youth, for the kids’ sake as well as the community’s.

Shuo Jim Huang of Silver Spring testified about a report from the Los Angeles Police Department showing that in the three months since Donald Trump took office, reports by Latinx of sexual violence and domestic violence have dropped by 25% and 10%, respectively, because victims believe they risk deportation by coming forward. Huang also noted that cities who honor detainers (requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to local law enforcement to hold immigrants and additional 48 hours after their release dates) risk lawsuits for violating the civil rights of detainees.

John Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, provided a national perspective on immigration, debunking myths that the country is experiencing a major surge in undocumented immigrants from Latin America and that undocumented immigrants originate only from that part of the world. Yang, who was once undocumented himself, noted there are 1.6 million Asian undocumented immigrants in the United States, 37,000 of these in Maryland, including nationals of China, India and the Philippines. Watch his full testimony here.

Teaching Tolerance
Alison Lepard of Bethesda, a Montgomery County Public Schools teacher and mother of an MCPS student and two graduates, wants all students to feel safe, but cautioned this can’t be achieved by vilifying a group of people. In the wake of the alleged rape of a 14-year-old MCPS student by two older classmates, both recent immigrants, Lepard feared that her immigrant students, who already are adjusting to a new language, culture and academics, could become targets of hate and even violence. “Humanity at worst when we believe one group is worth less than another group, and there’s no logic to fearing immigrants over this assault,” Lepard said. “After the Stanford swimmer’s assault of a woman, we didn’t all run away from Stanford students or from swimmers.” She believed Rockville’s proposed ordinance presents an opportunity that extends beyond the city. “We in Montgomery County and in Rockville in particular are privileged to be one of the most diverse school systems and diverse cities in this country, and I feel that we can be a model for the country, and say this is how we live together and this is how we work together.” Watch her full testimony here.

No Hate in Our State (or City or County)
Several speakers expressed alarm at groups like HSM stirring up anti-immigrant hatred in the community. One speaker, Colin Fletcher, who recently moved from Rockville to Chevy Chase, spoke about his father’s firsthand experience with Nazism. The elder Fletcher was born in the United States but grew up in Luxembourg, where as a teen he was arrested by the Gestapo in his high school math class and taken to prison camp for a year before being deported. He later joined the U.S. army and fought in World War II in Bavaria, afterwards becoming a history professor specializing in the Holocaust and a member of the Holocaust Memorial Council. His lesson to his son was this: “You must speak up early, you must speak up often, and you must speak up repeatedly against racism and bigotry, because once that campaign is started it is difficult to overcome.” Watch his full testimony here.

Immigrants Welcome
Many other speakers shared their personal experience as immigrants or with immigrants.

Gabriella Orellana of Rockville expressed gratitude for her single mother, who fled El Salvador’s civil war and entered the United States illegally in order to give her daughter a better future. She also spoke of her two daughters, both U.S. citizens, MCPS graduates, workers and taxpayers, without any criminal records. She urged community members to be more tolerant and educate themselves about how immigrants end up here, before rushing to “stereotypes or discriminatory conclusions.” “At the end, regardless of legal status, nationality, and any personal background and culture,” she said, “we all belong to the human race.” Watch her full testimony here.

Harriett Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in Montgomery County for more than 35 years, testified about how police in her hometown of Gaithersburg work successfully with the city’s diverse immigrant population and other residents to make the community “a tight, big family,” through neighborhood watches, face-to-face meetings, extra patrols and neighborhood block parties, among other initiatives. She spoke fondly of her next-door neighbors from El Salvador, including three teenage boys who help her shovel snow and do garden chores. Watch her full testimony here.

Salima Appiah-Duffell of Rockville, daughter of an African-American “military brat” and an African immigrant, recalled her own brushes with racism and xenophobia growing up in the Washington metropolitan area but felt very fortunate never to have a serious fear of racialized violence until this presidential election. She and her husband asked themselves where they should go if conditions worsened, but research showed they were already in best region for interracial couples. Appiah-Duffell believed this type of tolerant environment was no accident; rather, it was fostered by the government and community, and the proposed ordinance is another example. “It’s a choice that we can make in Rockville to keep our community the way that we want it.” Watch her full testimony here.

Next Steps
We have two successful counterdemonstrations and another very successful city council meeting behind us, but it’s critical we sustain the momentum towards a Rockville “Fostering Community Trust” (aka sanctuary) ordinance by advocating it every week at City Hall.

  • Please write to the council at mayorcouncil@rockvillemd.gov saying you still support ordinance 11-3, “Fostering Community Trust.”
  • Please join us at the regular Community Forum during the council session, scheduled from 7:15 to 7:30pm, 3 minutes per speaker. If you want to speak, call the city clerk at 240-314-8280 before 4pm Monday to get yourself on the schedule. (If you can’t attend but would like to provide written comments/testimony, you can do so by emailing mayorcouncil@rockvillemd.gov.)
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Analysis touting prototype MoCo “Countering Violent Extremism” program flawed, expert says

“To call [the “Montgomery County Model”] effective in the way they have would lead the average citizen to believe it reduces actual violence which is distinctly not the case. […To] say that it is an evidence based program after a single evaluation of a single component of the overall program is irresponsible.  To be “evidence based”, a program requires much more rigorous and repeated study.” 
— M.Garrettson

“Countering violent extremism” (CVE) programs have been in vogue in  law enforcement and counter-terrorism for several years.  The idea seems simple: enlist communities and their leaders in noticing persons who might be prone to violent extremism, take steps to watch those persons, and perhaps somehow guide them back to the straight and narrow.

Yet can the alleged potential to violent ‘extremism’ really be accurately estimated and acted on from one individual to the next?  Will one kind of allegedly violence-prone ‘extremist’ be singled out while others are left alone?  More broadly, is it right or is it counterproductive to try to turn communities or congregations into informant networks? Critics at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Defending Rights & Dissent, the ACLU, and many other groups raise these questions and say these programs often amount to thinly veiled institutional Islamophobia — as perhaps evidenced by President Trump’s plans to recast the programs as CIE: “countering Islamic extremism.”

WORDE has been touting this article for nearly a year as “proof of concept.”  Original copy here; online-searchable copy (Scribd) here.

One of the prototypes for CVE programs nationwide has been the “Montgomery County Model” (since renamed “BRAVE“, for “Building Resilience Against Violent Extremism) developed by the Montgomery Village based WORDE organization and its founder, Hedieh Mirahmadi.  (For an earlier post about this program and its proponents at the private/county “Faith Community Working Group” partnership, see here.) Employing methods honed in part during post 9-11 stints in Afghanistan, Mirahmadi (who has since moved on to the FBI) and WORDE set about creating an effective CVE program here in Montgomery County.

When Michael J. Williams et al published a 167 page report in June 2016 titled “Evaluation of a Multi-Faceted, U.S. Community-Based, Muslim-Led CVE Program,” it appeared that WORDE had succeeded.  To quote the conclusion WORDE has trumpeted ever since:

We found that of all of WORDE’s activities, their volunteer-service and multicultural programming had intended positive effects on 12 of 14 CVE-relevant outcomes. Additionally, there with [sic] no discernable [sic] unintended effects. To wit, these results make WORDE’s volunteer -service and multicultural programming the first evidence-based CVE-relevant programming in the United States.

Yet the report raises red flags.  For one thing, the report isn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal, but as a grant report hosted by a federal agency (NCJRS) that’s part and parcel of a federal domestic security apparatus dispensing growing sums of grant money for CVE programs. If a restaurant and the magazine reviewing it are both owned by the same parent company, five star ratings may be a little easier to come by.

Accordingly, MCCRC turned to a local expert to “evaluate the evaluation.”  Mariana Garrettson has a Masters of Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has made her career in violence prevention research.   Our discussion follows.


MCCRC:  Can you summarize the CVE program the authors evaluated for us?

MG: The program as they describe it, includes four components:

  1. Community education (to raise awareness of violence and offer sessions on things like conflict resolution, youth engagement and family support)
  2. Service provider education (to increase sensitivity to Islam and build relationships between different kinds of service providers–including law enforcement–who might be involved)
  3. Volunteerism and Multi-Cultural Programming (to get diverse youth and people working together in creative and volunteer efforts to promote civic engagement, cross-race and cross-religion social integration and family relationship building)
  4. Peer gate-keeper training (training high school students to recognize and assist peers who might be experiencing isolation, personal crisis, or bullying)

MCCRC:  Does the research presented truly support the key conclusion?

Continue reading

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Civil Rights Groups Demand End to High School Sports Hijab Ban #HijabisHoopToo

After sixteen year-old student Je’Nan Hayes was banned from competing in her varsity basketball team’s championship game for wearing a hijab, racial justice groups, civil rights organizations, and community members demanded an immediate change to the rules. On March 27, MCCRC, joined with Color of Change, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), , and members of Je’Nan’s family to deliver over 40,000 petitions to the National Federation of State High School Associations demanding an end to the Hijab ban.

“In a country built on the principles of religious freedom, it’s outrageous that there’s a rule that singles out Muslim women and girls,” said Brandi Collins, Campaign Director of Economic, Environmental & Media Justice Departments at Color Of Change. “There isn’t a shred of evidence that this rule enforces safety and competitive fairness, instead it functions to rob individuals of their basic rights and dignity.  At a time when hate crimes have risen to a level not seen since 9/11, we simply cannot normalize this kind of anti-Muslim bigotry in our schools.”

Je’Nan Hayes wore a hijab for each game of the Watkins Mill High School varsity basketball season. But she was prevented from playing in the regional final on March 3 due to a rule from the National Federation of State High School Associations that states that in order to play with a hijab, students must have a signed waiver from the state. Administrators from Prince George’s County and the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association say they disagree with the rule because hijabs have no bearing on the game and there is no reason for the ban.

“I just want to be an advocate for boys or girls, anybody who is trying out for a sport and has a religion and they feel like their faith can interfere with the way they play sports,” said Je’Nan Hayes. “It shouldn’t be that way. And because of rules like these, I feel like it makes people scared or turn away from sports, and I don’t want that to happen to anybody else in the future.”

jenan

“No athlete should ever be forced to choose between their ability to compete or their religious beliefs,” said CAIR Spokeswoman Zainab Chaudry. “Sports have long brought Americans of diverse faiths and backgrounds together. CAIR is appalled that Je’Nan was barred from participating in the regional finals game with the rest of her team because of her hijab. But we are proud of her for speaking out about her experience, and we are strongly committed to making sure this never happens again.”

“Our hearts break for Je’Nan, but we are inspired to see our community, and people around the country, stand with Je’Nan and join the fight for her First Amendment rights,” said Sue Udry, one of the founders of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition. “MCCRC will fight hard to protect our students from institutional Islamophobia and racism. The grossly unjust rule against hijabs for basketball players must be rescinded.”

“I’m proud of Je’Nan’s tenacity to advocate for change not only for her state but also nationally, if not globally,” said Carlitta Foster-Hayes, Je’Nan’s mother.

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Justice for Je’Nan Hayes

The Watkins Mill High School girls basketball team made it to the regional finals this year for the first time. Every girl on the Gaithersburg, Maryland team got a chance to play in the championship game, except Je’Nan Hayes. The referee in the game wouldn’t let her take the floor because she was wearing a hijab.

It turns out there is an obscure rule prohibiting the wearing of head coverings, unless a student seeks and is granted a religious waiver by the state. The rule is rarely enforced, and neither Je’Nan nor her coach had ever heard of it until the championship game. Referees in Montgomery County, where Watkins Mill HS is located, never enforced the rule, but at least one referee in Prince George’s County, where the championship game was played, not only knew the rule, but was determined to enforce it.

It’s time to change that rule. It stigmatizes students, forcing observant Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and others to ask for permission from the state to be allowed to play sports while wearing religious garb. Ostensibly, the rule is in place for ‘safety’ reasons, but there is no evidence that any religious head covering, including the hijab, create any safety hazard whatsoever.

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Introducing MCCRC’s Progressive Montgomery Calendar

Screenshot of Progressive Montgomery Calendar; click the image for a closer look.

Part of what makes the Montgomery County area great is its vibrant progressive community, from Takoma Park Mobilization to UpCounty Alliance, from Peace Action Montgomery to Progressive Neighbors, from CASA to SURJ MoCo.  (And hey, us too.)

So we’re very pleased that Mark Paster will maintain a Progressive Montgomery calendar at this web site, one where any group who wants to (indeed anyone who wants to) can submit events for inclusion in a single calendar that all of us can use.

As Mark put it, the goal “is to have one place where, to the maximum extent possible, all of the groups that are working in the progressive direction can share info on events and activities.  It could help avoid counter-scheduling, where two groups appealing to the same folks have their event at the same time and individuals who are looking to connect could more easily do so.”

Using the calendar couldn’t be simpler. For example, clicking on an entry for March 19th shows there will be a SURJ MoCo meeting at Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in Bethesda.  Click the “copy to my calendar” to transfer the event to your own calendar application.

A typical entry in the calendar’s default “Month” view after clicking its link. Click the “copy to my calendar” link to add the entry to your own calendar application.

The Google calendar comes with “Week,” “Month,” and “Agenda” views (because of the long titles many events have, perhaps the most useful one for an overview).  Any of them help you zero in on the events you’re most interested in.  There are also links to forms for either submitting an organization as a calendar source or  an event as a calendar entry, as well as to a list of organizations we try to keep up with.

Please have a lookbookmark this great new resource, and share it widely!

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Time-sensitive: Call state legislators, urge them to support the Trust Act

The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition is a strong proponent of the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act (HB 1362 / SB 835), Maryland’s “sanctuary” bill that would prevent law enforcement agencies within the state from becoming tools of federal immigration authorities, and would prevent any state funds or resources from being used in the commission of a national religious registry. (Read more about MCCRC’s work on the Trust Act here.)

Some background: March is a busy time of year for the Maryland General Assembly. Barring the possibility of a special session, the Assembly’s legislative session will adjourn for the year on April 10—less than one month away. The deadline for bills to move from one legislative chamber to the other (known as “crossover”) is even sooner: March 20. That effectively leaves activists and interest groups only more week from today to ensure their favored bills make it out of committee for a floor vote, then on to the other chamber for consideration.

So, what does this mean for the Trust Act? It means we need to put some serious pressure on the General Assembly to ensure this bill makes it through.

Senate President Mike Miller, (410) 841-3700 ; House Speaker Mike Busch, (410) 841-3800

The Trust Act has a broad (though sadly not bipartisan) base of co-sponsors in both the House and Senate. Unfortunately, this alone does not guarantee a bill will make it out of committee; that’s up to the committee chairs, who tend to answer to their party leadership. We need everyone to contact the House Speaker and Senate President, listed below, then review the district-level calls to action as well. Calls are preferred over email, but email is preferred over nothing!

General calls to action: call these legislators no matter which district you reside in.

  • Del. Mike Busch, Speaker of House of Delegates (representing Anne Arundel County district 30A). Call (410) 841-3800, or email.
    Ask: Publicly support the Trust Act and ensure it is brought to a floor vote.
  • Sen. Mike Miller, Senate President (representing district 27, Calvert/Charles/Prince George’s County). Call (410) 841-3700, or email.
    Ask: Publicly support the Trust Act and ensure it is brought to a floor vote.

Constituent calls to action: see if your own legislators are co-sponsors of the bill (House co-sponsor list here, Senate here). If they are, thank them! If they aren’t, ask them to support and co-sponsor the bill. In addition, we are asking people to focus efforts on the following legislators; please urge family, friends, and fellow activists living in these districts to call. Continue reading

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Mythbusting Rockville’s Sanctuary Ordinance

As reported earlier this week, Rockville residents and our neighbors throughout Montgomery County (and even further afield) testified at the Mayor and Council meeting on March 6 about a proposed ordinance regarding the role of local police in federal immigration law enforcement. While a majority of the Rockville residents who testified supported the ordinance, including three students from Richard Montgomery High School, a minority opposed. They were joined by a group of Chinese and Chinese Americans organized by the Montgomery County Republic Party, as well as Jonathan Hanen, Eastern Field Representative for Federation for American Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a hate group. These folks have been traveling the state to testify against any legislation that, like Rockville’s, seeks to protect the civil rights of otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants while preserving public safety for the entire community.  With the help of some of the thoughtful people who testified at the hearing, we’d like to debunk a few of the opposition’s oft-repeated myths.

MYTH: The ordinance reflects a change of policy for the Rockville police

The Rockville Police Department (RPD) and the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) have had an unofficial community policing[1] policy for years. The proposed ordinance seeks simply to codify the policy in order to protect the city from overreach by the federal government. As Tom Manger, MCPD’s Chief and President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, stated in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2015, “To do our job we must have the trust and respect of the communities we serve. We fail if the public fears their police and will not come forward when we need them. Whether we seek to stop child predators, drug dealers, rapists or robbers—we need the full cooperation of victims and witnesses. Cooperation is not forthcoming from persons who see their police as immigration agents. When immigrants come to view their local police and sheriffs with distrust because they fear deportation, it creates conditions that encourage criminals to prey upon victims and witnesses alike.” At the March 6 hearing, Assistant Chief Russ Hamill reaffirmed MCPD’s commitment to this policy.

MYTH: The ordinance will protect immigrants who commit violent crimes

In fact, the RPD policy that the ordinance seeks to codify has the opposite purpose. As Chief Manger explained, community policing is a tried-and-true method to ensure undocumented immigrants are comfortable reporting violent crimes—including violent crimes committed by other undocumented immigrants—without fear of deportation. There are 28 violent crimes the RPD is required to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), including child abuse, kidnapping, robbery, rape and murder, and the proposed ordinance does not change that. (See full list in Section IV.D of the MCPD’s policy Dealing with Foreign Nationals.) Several opponents of the ordinance mentioned the recent uptick in gang violence in Montgomery County. Who is most likely to have information that will help police investigate and prosecute a violent crime committed by a member of MS-13, a native-born white American, a legal Chinese immigrant, or an undocumented Central American immigrant?

On a related side note, it was disturbing to hear opponents of the ordinance conflating undocumented immigrants (some used the dehumanizing terms “illegals” and even “invaders”) with criminals. Rockville resident Jim Reschovsky touched on the issue in his moving remarks about his grandmother, whose efforts to immigrate legally from Austria in the years before World War II were thwarted by our country’s policy at the time of turning away Jews. Her son chose to break the law by paying to smuggle her out of Austria, and his grandmother transited illegally through several European countries before reaching the safety of our shores. Had she and her family chosen to wait for a legal option, Jim’s grandmother likely would have perished in a concentration camp.

MYTH: “Sanctuary” cities experience more crime than other cities

While one can find plenty of dubious sources to support this claim, studies from reliable sources, including the Washington Post and NPR, show either no major change in violent crime when a jurisdiction adopts a “sanctuary” policy or a modest decrease. Gaithersburg resident Debbie Chen delved into data on violent crimes and property crimes in Montgomery County using the Maryland Department of Information Technology’s Open Data Portal and found that such crimes are currently at historic lows, including the years since the MCPD and RPD adopted their unofficial community policing policies.


MYTH: The ordinance will result in a major loss of funding for the city

Opponents have raised fears about a loss of federal funding if the city is designated a “sanctuary” by the Trump administration. As its sponsor, Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr, has pointed out, the proposed ordinance is 100% compliant with federal law. Even if the Trump administration ignored this and attempted to withhold funding to Rockville, the city could sue it for violating the Fifth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution, as well as under Supreme Court case law regarding the Spending Clause. ICE detainers raise an additional constitutional issue. As the American Immigration Council explains, “[u]nder the Fourth Amendment, a person generally may not be detained without a warrant.  Courts have ruled that states and localities that honor ICE detainers (i.e., ICE requests to hold a person even though they are otherwise eligible for release from criminal custody) may be held liable for Fourth Amendment violations. Several counties have been forced to pay six-figure settlements to individuals as a result of holding them on detainers longer than 48 hours [emphasis added].” On March 3, a Florida judge ruled that Miami-Dade County’s policy of holding undocumented immigrants in jail at the request of the federal government is unconstitutional. Local attorney Kate Perino reminded the Mayor and Council of these potential costs, as well as the likely drain on the city’s coffers if its police force were deputized by ICE, given the agency’s history of failing to reimburse local jurisdictions for resources spent assisting immigration enforcement.

MYTH: Rockville’s immigrant community opposes the ordinance

Numerous immigrants from Rockville testified in support of the ordinance, and others made comments in an online petition, including Dr. Tolulope A. O. Odunlami, who wrote: “Immigrants are the bedrock of Rockville’s economy. The city is an inclusive city, I was born in Africa, came here with my family, I was nominated to serve on the Environment commission 14 years ago, and many other positions that I had the opportunity to serve in the city; now serving as the President of the Lincoln park civic Association. (Only in America and with the love of people in Rockville can my story and experience of my family can be possible.)” In response to testimony by Chinese and Chinese-American residents opposing the ordinance and holding themselves out as examples of legal immigrants, Shua (Jim) Huang, a naturalized U.S. citizen from China and MCCRC member, recalled the lucky break he and many other Chinese immigrants received in 1990s from the first Bush administration following the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Jim described Executive Order 12711 and the Chinese Student Protection Act as a “red carpet” and “a national sanctuary policy” for Chinese immigrants like himself and his family and speculated that compatriots who testified against the ordinance may also have benefited from this policy.

MYTH: Passing the ordinance will do nothing to mitigate the fear gripping Rockville’s immigrant community

Numerous speakers at the hearing who are in daily contact with undocumented immigrants, including a representative of CASA, a professor from Montgomery College, and the pastor of a Rockville church, challenged this myth. Even if it were true, the ordinance is just one of many actions the community is taking to protect our immigrant neighbors from the Trump administration’s hostile executive orders. Established and new local groups, including MCCRC, CASA, Sanctuary DMV, CAIR Coalition, Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services, United We Dream, MLOV, and others are holding know-your-rights workshops, accompanying immigrants to ICE check-ins, and organizing rapid response teams to document ICE raids and assist families affected by them, in addition to lobbying city, county and state government governments to adopt ordinances like the one proposed in Rockville.

Monday’s Mayor and Council hearing revealed an organized, peripatetic and vocal opposition that relies on myths to advance its anti-immigrant agenda. To protect our immigrant neighbors and ensure the safety of our city, we need Rockville residents, especially members of the immigrant community, to continue to set the record straight and voice their support for the proposed ordinance. Please sustain the momentum this Monday, March 13, by testifying during the Community Forum portion of the Mayor and Council meeting and attending the “drop-in” with Mayor Bridget Newton and Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, or email your testimony to mayorcouncil@rockvillemd.gov.

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[1] This is sometimes called a “sanctuary” policy. See this fact sheet from the American Immigration Council explaining the terms “sanctuary,” “community policing,” and “trust communities.”

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Bystander Intervention Training Materials here!

“Hassle line” at Bystander Intervention Training, Jan 4, Takoma Park

In the wake of the disastrous election of 2016 and the rise of hate crimes and harassment in our community, those of us in the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) have provided Bystander Intervention trainings to almost 2,500 activists in Maryland and around the Washington, D.C. metro area in only two months.  We’re proud that this included some 1700 people who were trained on January 20th (Inauguration Day) through Swamp Revolt by 70 trainers we taught, in advance of the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st.

Our Bystander Intervention training was created so that communities could do two things:

  1. To provide a community service that would increase the likelihood that people will step up to support any community member who is being harassed.  We do this by grounding our training in nonviolence, de-escalation, and compassion for others.
  2. To use the trainings to provide a conduit for people to become interested in becoming progressive political activists and to help them find community groups who are doing activist work that challenges systematic injustices.

We have found this model to be very successful for us — and we think it might be useful for other communities as well.  In only a few months, we have doubled our mailing list and now have hundreds of people interested in our general meetings and committee work.

As a civil rights / civil liberties group, we chose to focus on four politically relevant issues:

  • Sanctuary for immigrants
  • Working against Islamophobia
  • Police accountability
  • Stopping surveillance by local, state and national government

These have worked well for us (see our homepage for details), but we believe that bystander trainings can serve to bring new activists into any kind of progressive work. We have developed a variety of materials to help you do Bystander Intervention trainings:

  1. A script for a general Bystander Intervention training [Google Drive, Scribd]
  2. A handout for people who attend a general training [Google Drive, Scribd]
  3. A template for how to prepare a handout about your local organization and resources [Google Drive, Scribd]
  4. A script for a Training of Trainers [Google Drive, Scribd]
  5. A publicity blurb [Google Drive, Scribd]

The trainings are presented as scripts that anyone can pick up and read to an assembled group. They have been extensively tested, so we can assure you that even though they may seem too wordy, they really do work very well as written.

We wrote these materials based on our experience as activists, organizers, and trainers in nonviolent action.  Although we have received feedback from all of our training groups and dozens of fellow organizers, we welcome any additional suggestions or revisions you might want to share with us as you gain experience in your own communities.

We would love to know which groups are using our materials, so please give us your group’s name, a contact name, email address and zip code.  We hope to get a map up showing where trainings have happened around the country — and where they will be happening — so that people can find your organization, come to a training and get involved in your work.

It is our philosophy that our trainings should be given for free, so that as many people as possible can receive the training.

If you are planning on doing a training for personal profit, please do NOT use any of our materials or create your own training based on this one.  It took us an enormous amount of time to write the script, to get real-life experience with thousands of people to see if the training worked, to make revisions, and to prepare the training of trainers.  The materials are protected under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license, so please don’t use us like that, okay?

http://tinyurl.com/bystander-mccrc

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We stand with our neighbors! Rockville turns out for sanctuary hearing

Richard Montgomery HS students Ameen Elhamdani, Lydia Levy, Isabelle Young before testifying for proposed City of Rockville ordinance 11-3, “Fostering Community Trust.” More photos here.

Scores of  local residents testified about a proposed City of Rockville sanctuary ordinance at Monday night’s Rockville City Council hearing.

While not all speakers favored the ordinance 11-3, “Fostering Community Trust,”  (sponsored by Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr), a majority did as a supportive audiences watched in multiple overflow rooms.

Video of the evening’s testimony is now available on the Rockville city web site.  Our own videos of testimony (off the TV screen in a viewing room) and interviews outside the hearing room are grouped in the YouTube playlist below.  It includes testimony by Carol Schlenker, two of the Richard Montgomery High School students (Lydia Levy and Isabelle Young), and Sue Udry, as well as interviews with all three students, former Councilmember Tom Moore, Rockville Human Rights Commissioner Ben Shnider, and Montgomery County Councilmember Sidney Katz.

We’re also adding to a  growing collection of written testimony by supporters of the ordinance. Among the many great points they made:

John Appiah-Duffell (MCCRC, Sanctuary Rockville):

I was present at last week’s mayor and council meeting, and we all—every one of us in the room—shared a proud moment recognizing Rockville’s status as the ninth most culturally diverse small city in the US. We applauded! The City of Rockville Twitter account recognized this news with the hashtags #proud and #Diversityisourstrength. I agree. The question for all of us here today is how much that diversity truly matters to us, and whether—when push comes to shove—we’re capable and willing to stand up for our diverse community.

Donald Mewha:

I have three children ranging from 7 to 15 years old who currently attend MCPS.  They have seen the effects of the current immigration policy first hand.  They have seen the look on their friends’ faces when they hear about ICE raids.   The people that the current Executive Order targets aren’t some sort of shadowy ‘other’.  They are the parents of our children.  They are business owners.  They are friends and family members who simply want to go about their lives peacefully.

Tom Moore (former Rockville City Councilmember):

We are a nation of laws, and this is a moment to pass a law. A law that says that the City of Rockville will protect – not punish – those who call upon it for help. A law that tells the terrified children in Rockville that this City will play no part in deporting their parents, no part in destroying their families. A law that best protects City taxpayer funds. A law that says: We stand for all of our families. We stand for all of our children.

Carol Schlenker (MCCRC, Sanctuary Rockville):

Opponents of this ordinance frame as a choice between crime and law-and-order, or pit undocumented immigrants against those who hold legal status. Based on my 7+ years volunteering at FJC, this is not only wrong, it’s dangerous. Our city and county should not discourage undocumented women and men from reporting domestic violence and other violent crimes, for their safety, their children’s, and our entire community’s. Under our current unofficial policy, we don’t have to choose between public safety and protecting the rights of otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants. This enlightened, effective, local policy is now under threat, and for that reason I urge the Mayor and Council to protect all peace-loving residents of Rockville and codify it into our City Code.

Rachel Singer:

We as descendents of immigrants are uniquely positioned to provide a safety for those seeking a haven We must not squander this opportunity- let us welcome those who are in need of support- who want to start a new life for themselves and their families.

Sue Udry (MCCRC, BORDC/DDF):

As the City Council considers this ordinance; it is legitimate-to look into possible financial repercussions based on threats made in a January 25 Executive Order to find ways to cut funding from so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions.” It is important to note that many Constitutional scholars have declared that such cuts would be unconstitutional and likely halted by the courts. They argue that trust policies, such as the one the Council is considering tonight, are an exercise of basic state and local powers to regulate for the health, safety and welfare of their residents, and the Trump Administration cannot commandeer the Rockville police to enforce federal immigration policy.

Isabelle Young, Lydia Levy, Ameen Elhamdani (RM Huddle Club, Richard Montgomery HS):

We understand that this ordinance may make some feel a little threatened, but it’s vital to any important decision to separate fact from feelings. According to NPR, “On average, counties that did not comply with ICE requests experienced 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 people than those that did.” They also saw a number of additional benefits of adopting policies that protect immigrants, including, “higher household incomes, lower rates of unemployment, [and] lower rates of poverty.”
–Isabelle Young

I cannot begin to imagine the fear that some go through. As students, we should be focusing on education and making our lives better, not live with the constant thought that we might not be in school tomorrow because of being labeled as an illegal immigrant We are all immigrants, except for the native americans .. How can we blame them for attempting at a search for a new and better life? It’s not their fault they are in this situation, they did not ask for it.
Ameen Elhamdani

Rockville is made up of about 45% minorities, while our high school is made up of about 66 percent. That amounts to 1,481 students. In the United States, illegal immigrants make up an estimated 3.5% of our population. Applying this to the Richard Montgomery community, we can estimate that up to 51 students could be illegal immigrants, or children of them. That’s 51 students seeking nothing more than an education. 51 students who have the right to feel safe and accepted in their own school. While this is just an estimate, it addresses an issue that is concrete: students all over our community feel threatened by random police actions-
-Lydia Levy

Click the speaker’s name for the full text of his or her remarks.  While we’ve quoted from all the testimony we have, we’d like to embed the well-researched, heartfelt statements of the three young students from Richard Montgomery High School in full:

For an ongoing list of all testimony forwarded to MCCRC, visit our “Rockville Testimony” collection at scribd.com.

 

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Activists make case for Sanctuary Rockville ordinance at Monday hearing; vote next Monday

Rockville has taken the first step towards codifying its unofficial policy limiting the role of city police and staff in cooperating with federal authorities to enforce immigration law,[1] and MCCRC was there to voice support.

At the Mayor and Council Meeting on February 27, Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr introduced an ordinance to enshrine the unofficial policy of the Rockville Police Department into the City Code to protect and foster trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community. Noting that the ordinance is 100% compliant with federal law and provides no sanctuary to those who commit violent crimes, Councilmember Palakovich Carr offered several reasons for its introduction: ensuring community safety by preserving the good relationship between the police and residents; guaranteeing equal protection to residents, regardless of their immigration status; resisting an unfunded federal mandate; and, refreshingly, “I just think it’s the right thing to do.”

Carol Schlenker testifies for a Rockville city sanctuary ordinance.

Carol Schlenker testifies for a Rockville city sanctuary ordinance. Video of the hearing is available here.

Citizen testimony

Three Rockville citizens testified about the ordinance during the Community Forum portion of the meeting. Christy Shannon, creator of the Sanctuary Rockville Facebook page, compared the relationship between the police and the community to her relationship with high-risk students, including many immigrants, as a former public high school math teacher. “Teachers and police share a common problem: We’re trying to get everyone to do the right thing and we’re completely outnumbered,” Shannon said, describing how a culture of discipline and trust resulted in classroom safety and student success. “When you’re outnumbered, you must have the community on your side. Love and community are risky, but they’re worth it.” Colleen Reed, a Twinbrook Elementary School PTA member and employee of a local foundation that funds Montgomery Cares safety-net clinics, testified about the fear and anxiety in the immigrant community: students so worried that they or their loved ones will be deported that their health and school performance are suffering, adults so terrified to leave their houses that they’re willing to forego needed medical care. MCCRC’s Carol Schlenker, an immigration paralegal, testified that recent executive orders have caused panic among all immigrants, documented and undocumented, and confusion for the legal professionals who advise them. She cited the alarming uptick in anti-immigrant violence across the country, even within Montgomery County, as a reason Councilmember Palakovich Carr’s proposal should be offered as an ordinance rather than a less robust resolution or policy. (See full remarks below.)

Council reactions

Most of the Council appeared to favor the proposal. Councilmember Mark Pierzchala is perhaps the strongest supporter after Councilmember Palakovich Carr. He agreed that an ordinance would be more effective than a resolution or policy in achieving much-needed legal clarity. Councilmember Virginia Onley, although not stating a position on whether the proposal should be passed as an ordinance, supported its intent to ensure that all residents feel welcomed, wanted and safe in the diverse city. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton expressed support for the city’s policy restricting the police from asking residents about their immigration status, but asked Acting Police Chief Bob Rappoport to clarify how his officers are able to identify immigrants who have committed violent crimes without expressly asking the question. (Answer: When Rockville City Police stop a resident for probable cause, they run a background check. If the results show only a civil Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] warrant, they will let the resident go. If it’s a criminal ICE warrant, the resident is arrested.)

Beryl Feinberg is the Councilmember who voiced the most reservations about the ordinance. While she concurred that the country has entered a regrettable era of hatred and polarization — comparing it to the Crusades, the Inquisition, World War II, and apartheid — she stated that the Mayor and Council should weigh the opinions of all residents and business owners, including those who oppose the ordinance, and also consider the financial impact to the city if the federal government designates Rockville a “sanctuary city” and opts to withhold funding. She also stated her belief that the ordinance would do nothing to mitigate the fear gripping the immigrant community. Councilmember Pierzchala, a Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland during the waning days of apartheid, gave a moving response to these comments. He recalled visiting South Africa five or six times and observing that “[i]t wasn’t just the brutality. It was the denigration of humanity. Every little law in South Africa was an opportunity to trip someone up. Any little thing you did wrong could land you in jail or get you killed. Councilmember Feinberg is correct that it will not stop the fear. It will not stop ICE from coming into the city or the county. What it  will do is address how we police and how our city staff operate. And if we do nothing other than have a clear law that says this is not going to be one of those trip-up jurisdictions where you do 14 miles over the speed limit rather than 12 – I think that’s very important.”

What’s next
If you agree that it’s very important, especially if you live in the City of Rockville, please take the following actions:

  • Sign Sanctuary Rockville’s petition and be aware of the arguments in the counter-petition.
  • Educate yourself. Rockville city staff compiled some useful resources here for the Mayor and Council. On the federal funding issue, Congressional Research Service recently published this helpful legal sidebar: Plan to Restrict Federal Grants to “Sanctuary Jurisdictions” Raises Legal Questions.
  • Join us to testify on the merits of the ordinance at the next Mayor and Council Meeting this Monday, March 6, at Rockville City Hall, 111 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. The Community Forum is scheduled to begin at 6:45 pm. People who wish to speak at the hearing are strongly encouraged to sign up in advance by calling the City Clerk’s office at 240-314-8280 or emailing cityclerk@rockvillemd.gov. Please limit your testimony to 3 minutes or less. For those who wish to testify in Spanish, an interpreter will be available. If you can’t appear in person, you may email written testimony to cityclerk@rockvillemd.gov.
  • Spread the word! Let people know about the ordinance and the opportunity to testify. Here is a simple flyer to distribute in your neighborhood or post in local businesses, libraries and community centers.

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[1] Laws, policies, or resolutions like this are sometimes referred to as “sanctuary” policies, although no legal or standard definition of the term exists. See this fact sheet from the American Immigration Council about “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

Carol Schlenker testimony

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