On the evening of Sunday, December 4, a large “Takoma Park Mobilization”* assembly at Piney Branch Elementary School heard a moving request by resident Gabrielle Tayac on behalf of “Antonio” (not his actual name). The undocumented 18 year old Honduran had fled a childhood pressed into service of gangs in 2014, made a home in Fort Washington, and had come to be part of her family and Piscataway tribe.
Unfortunately, Antonio got into a fight resulting in charges, a guilty plea, and then — unbeknownst to him — a deportation order marking him as a gang member. Meanwhile, feeling menaced by *real* gang members in the area, Antonio sought guidance and protection from police.
What he got instead, on October 24, 2016, was a betrayal. Ms. Tayac:
…around mid-October he had started to be feeling some threats, and he was told to make a report to the police who had interviewed him … he …and this advocate asked to me to have this meeting in my home, because there was a promise that he would be helped, that the report would be credible. He told them what had happened, and they said, ‘yeah we can help you, you just need to come to Hyattsville and file a report.’
He went to Hyattsville, got to the police station, and they arrested him under the deportation law. He is right now, he is in ICE detention in Worcester, Maryland.
[…] He was fleeing extremely brutal violence and abuse from gangs in Honduras. The story that this boy has is almost unspeakable. […] If he’s deported, he’s going to die.
As a petition on Antonio’s behalf by NDLON (National Day Laborer Organizing Network) puts it:
ICE is now claiming that Antonio is a deportation priority due to gang ties, when he has actually been actively trying to flee the gangs that run much of Honduras. “Antonio is doing everything right, and it seems like ICE is trying to undo that and put him in harms way!” says his friend Andrea.
When a young man turning his life around with art and deepening ties to friends and new family is imprisoned, and faced with deportation that is tantamount to a death sentence, it’s a human tragedy.
But the case illustrates even more than that. For one, it’s abysmally short sighted policing. If fighting gangs with roots abroad is a priority, one thing *not* to do is help them out by delivering those who got away back into their clutches. And if protecting and serving the community is a priority, another thing *not* to do is to abuse the trust of that community.
It also illustrates how limited the scope of city and county immigration and sanctuary policies can be. In 2014, Prince George’s County was — rightly — praised by CASA de Maryland and the ACLU for to its decision not to hold jailed, undocumented immigrants beyond their scheduled release at federal request unless there was probable cause of another crime. Yet observe how little good that did Antonio, or how little it seemed to change the policies on the ground of that county’s police — judging by the low cunning of the tawdry scheme described by Ms. Tayac.
We advocate strong, binding language by county government that would prevent our own police from ever betraying a young man the way the PG police department did. A model ordinance developed by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation — the Model Ordinance to Protect Against Discriminatory Profiling and Limit Surveillance, Intelligence Collection, and Immigration Enforcement Activities — has a Limits on Local Immigration Enforcement Activities section that leads with the simple declarative sentence:
A. Local law enforcement agencies shall not participate in activities related to enforcing federal immigration laws.
It goes on to specify:
1. Local immigration enforcement. Local law enforcement agencies shall not engage in agreements with Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) components, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), to facilitate the enforcement of federal immigration law. Programs for which such engagement is prohibited include, but are not limited to: agreements under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act; the Criminal Alien Program; and Next Generation Identification.
2. Detainers. Facilities under the jurisdiction of this body shall not be used to detain persons held for suspected immigration violations. Law enforcement agents shall not make arrests or detain persons based on administrative warrants or requests by federal agencies for removal, including those generated by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) or the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Local officials shall not hold persons based on detainers requested by ICE.
3. Sharing Arrest Data. Local law enforcement agencies shall not share arrest data (including but not limited to fingerprints) with state or federal counterparts, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), unless it relates to suspected violent felonies. Data pertaining to persons suspected of misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies shall not be shared with other law enforcement agencies absent an express duty under federal or state law.
Antonio would have been safer in a city or county where this law was on the books. Just as much to the point, so would the rest of us. When a young man goes to the police for help and safety, and is delivered into danger instead, trust in law enforcement is weakened, and gangs are strengthened. That’s not the kind of city or county anyone needs. We can and should do better.
* The “Takoma Park Mobilization” is a remarkable and evolving grassroots effort you can learn more about here.