“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com.)