City holds public forum and listens as residents and neighbors discuss immigration
ROCKVILLE – More than 80 people testified during a public hearing Monday on a planned ordinance which would preclude the city from enforcing federal immigration law.
Residents, property owners and workers in the city, as well as individuals from elsewhere in the county, shared concerns about what would happen if the ordinance was implemented.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said the purpose of the public hearing was to give residents a chance to comment on the idea of Rockville becoming a sanctuary city. She said she and the council received many letters over the past few weeks pertaining to the sanctuary city status.
There were “many in support and there are many who have concerns,” Newton said.
People waited up to four hours for their turn to speak during the mayor and council’s public hearing.
Local immigration attorney Kate Perino said she supported the ordinance because if police had to act as Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers, that would cause a “drain on limited public safety resources.” In addition to the police officers being taken away from their existing law enforcement responsibilities, it would cost the city more money. She said she found out from researching the costs related to ICE that the agency does not reimburse police departments for performing ICE duties.
Dan Kelly, a Silver Spring resident, said he supported the ordinance and urged the city to adopt the term “sanctuary city” because several people who seek asylum in the U.S. have to wait years to receive that status.
“Asylum cases can take years to process,” Kelly said. “If (they) were made to wait in their home countries, they could die of gang violence or police action before knowing the decision,” he said, after mentioning several people emigrate to the U.S. from El Salvador.
He said he personally faced challenges immigrating to the U.S., but said his experience paled in comparison to those of many people fleeing violence in Central and South America.
“I am an immigrant,” Kelly said. “I have a green card. My process took months to complete, much money and was a tenth of what others must go through and fail at crossing America’s southern border.”
He repeatedly encouraged the city to become a “sanctuary city.”
“Sanctuary law seeks to protect local jurisdictions from becoming non-deputized agents of aggressive prejudicial measures,” Kelly said.
“This (presidential) administration does not care if you call yourselves sanctuary,” he said. “It only cares if you act as a sanctuary. So why not be bold?”
Council member Julie Palakovich Carr is leading council efforts on the ordinance. She said the students at Twinbrook Elementary contributed to her reasons why the council needs the police practice written into law.
“There have been all kinds of reports coming out of that school (Twinbrook) from teachers and (parent teacher association members),” said Palakovich Carr.
Palakovich Carr said that if the council passes the ordinance the city would be able to convey to residents the police department will focus on enforcing state and local laws rather than federal ones.
“It would send a message that city police really are focused on the serious crimes here in Rockville, about enforcing drug laws, attacks, something like that,” Palakovich Carr said.
She said if police pull a driver over for speeding, they shouldn’t pursue questions about their immigration status because city police enforce state and local laws.
Newton said earlier Monday that staff and the mayor and council have a series of steps to take before they can finalize the ordinance, if they choose to adopt it.
“No decision has been made and the mayor and council will hold discussions and instruction (with the) staff and make a decision as to what we’re going to do,” Newton said.
City Manager Rob DiSpirito said a few weeks ago that following the public hearing, the city may still scrap the ordinance, but several variables were involved in making the decision.
Several speakers who signed up to testify said they believed if the city adopted the ordinance and if the city classified itself as a “sanctuary city,” then Rockville crime rates would escalate.
Nancy Shih, a landlord for property in the city, said she opposed the ordinance because it “opens loopholes for crimes.”
She said people who are undocumented immigrants would be able to commit more crimes because police weren’t taking them into custody for violating federal law on immigration.
Zhenya Li said she opposed the ordinance and the idea of a sanctuary city because she believed the city would lose federal funding.
"It gives undocumented immigrants a false sense of security," she said. “The City of Rockville can potentially lose millions of dollars in federal funding.”
Palakovich Carr said she is not worried about the city losing federal funds if the council passes the ordinance because the city is not required to enforce federal law.
“If it goes back to compliance with federal law I think we’re safe there because we do comply,” Palakovich Carr said.
Rockville resident Brigitta Mullican said she opposes the ordinance because she believes it would authorize police to not enforce a law even though they’re supposed to.
“The bottom line I feel like if someone worries about being deported, they’re here illegally,” Mullican said. “That’s against the law.”