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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