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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.