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Immigrants plead case to Gaithersburg government

Gaithersburg logoGAITHERSBURG — Several immigrants and their advocates came to City Hall Monday night to ask Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council to pass a “restoring community trust” ordinance to provide protection to immigrant communities and assuage their fears of interacting with government agencies.

“I have met many talented, resilient, hard-working young adults, but they all share one common denominator,” said Claudia Quinonez, Maryland field director for the immigrant advocacy organization United We Dream. “They are afraid of being torn apart from their families due to their immigration status. I have seen many students with straight A’s drop their grades or failed their classes due to their families being torn apart as a result of the federal immigration system. I have seen mothers fail to seek benefits for their children because of fear that they will be turned away by state agencies. I have seen families stop themselves from reporting crimes because they are afraid that they will be detained by local police. For this reason, we come to you, Mayor and City Council, to urge you to help Gaithersburg residents feel free to come out of the shadows and give them peace of mind. We kindly ask you to pass a restoring community trust ordinance, as has happened in many adjacent cities such as Hyattsville, Takoma Park, and Rockville.”

“I’m here because an ordinance preventing city police from cooperating with ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) will make immigrants less afraid to speak with police," said Ibrahim Pinzon, a senior at Gaithersburg High School. “I came here at the age of one from Mexico. I have a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) visa, which is in danger of being eliminated under Trump. I want to prosper here and be a member of the community. Gaithersburg was ranked as, statistically, as the most diverse city in the United States, and I have prospered here. I’ve been accepted to four out of the five colleges that I’ve applied to and I have $108,000 scholarship to McDaniel College, so I plan on pursuing my career here.”

“I came to the United States from Mexico two years ago,” said Felipe Pineda, a junior at Gaithersburg High School. “I lost several members of my family in the violence of the drug cartel wars. The diverse community of Gaithersburg made me feel at home right away. I’m hoping the city will help us feel welcome by passing this ordinance."

“This is not a new issue for us,” Mayor Ashman said in response to the testimony of Quinonez, Pinzon, Pineda, and other attendees. “While we have not passed a formal ordinance, we have made a strong statement’ we do have a policy for our police department that they are not empowered and do not have the resources to enforce federal immigration laws. When police speak to members of our community, they are not checking documentation.  When people sign up for recreational activities, we do ask for documentation as to whether you live in Gaithersburg, in order to determine if you receive the city rate or the county rate, but we are not checking documentation for federal immigration status. We have not passed a trust ordinance, and you’re welcome to advocate for that, but I do feel we’ve resolved ourselves on this issue. We are a welcoming, diverse place.”

“I appreciate the comments that you made that this is a community that is very welcoming,” said Debbie Chen, who testified after Ashman’s statement. “I understand the point that you’ve made that you’ve put out this policy, but I think it’s important that it’s very clear to the community where those lines are drawn, and what the rules and responsibilities are with regards to local law enforcement and ICE officers. It’s fine to have a policy, but policies can often be changed. It’s ultimately about transparency and accountability in government. I’m asking you to listen to the concerns of the people in your city.” 

“I’m here to support these people in their efforts,” said Doug Hill, an area resident, who also testified. “I hope to make the city government understand that people in these communities need their protection – not just a Section 108 policy for the police department, but actual legislation.”

@petersrouleau

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