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Residents overflow Hyattsville council chambers for sanctuary city hearing

HVLSancCity 01HYATTSVILLE – Hyattsville residents spoke with their feet when it came to the city possibly becoming a sanctuary city as the council chambers were so packed during the public hearing that the city had to open an overfill room for residents to sit.

Last week, the Hyattsville City Council held a public hearing on a bill that would designate the municipality as a sanctuary city. Though the bill has not yet come before the full council, it was cosigned by a supermajority of the body’s members.

Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth said the council would take a number of factors into consideration before making its ultimate decision.

“The ordinance provided herein is a draft and is subject to change based on feedback gained during this hearing, analysis of the review provided by legal counsel and city council debate,” she said.

The ordinance, which will be officially introduced on March 20, largely puts on the books what the city police say has been a practice for a number of years.

Essentially, the bill details that the city and city police will not use city funds or city resources to do the work of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). Specifically, the ordinance states the city police will not inquire about immigration status unless by court order, threaten to deport a person, arrest a person based on immigration status or refuse service based on status, and that the city police will not accept requests from other agencies to “assist in civil immigration enforcement operations.”

The legislation also states that no agency will turn over a detained person to ICE unless presented with a “valid and properly issued criminal warrant.”

Although the city police say this new ordinance simply makes their current practices official, some residents in the city fear most for the police force.

Angela Kenny said she didn’t understand why the city would put police funding at risk, since President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold federal dollars from designated sanctuary cities.

“The police department is one of the greatest assets we have. We’re lucky,” Kenny said. “Why would you reduce the funding to that?”

However, many residents pushed back some of the fear of losing money. Most pointed out how little the city receives in federal funds. A few residents even said they would be willing to pay extra taxes to ensure their neighbors feel safe.

Cynthia Way took it a step further and questioned what residents would be willing to do for federal money.

“(We’re) faced with a blackmail situation. If we do this, federal funds will be taken away,” she said. “Let’s not succumb to the blackmail. What are we willing to do for money? What inhumane thing are we willing to do to our neighbors who love us?”

Jake Rollow, a spokesperson for the city, said earlier in the year the city has received approximately $1.14 million from the federal government in the past seven years, though at the same time said it is impossible to know how much grant money is at stake.

“It is impossible to know the amount of grant funding we would be successful in obtaining in the next seven years, in part because we do not know what grants will be available or impacted by the president's executive order,” he said.

Besides funding, other points residents raised about sanctuary city designation included concerns about public safety. Some residents, who said they opposed the designation, voiced concerns about crime if police do not have to ask about immigration status.

In addition, resident Louis Kerdock said he would personally take legal action against the city if a sanctuary city bill was passed and said the council is “on notice”

Still, Councilman Patrick Paschall refuted the assumption that crime would increase. During the council dialogue time he listed several responses to opposition reasoning.

“Officers will continue to have the opportunity to investigate and enforce the law on any crime, violent or not violent, regardless of that person’s immigration status. This goal here is just to take immigration status out of the equation altogether,” he said.

In addition, others said the bill is in response to concerns about safety for those in the community who are scared to call the police, help in investigations or even volunteer at their children’s schools for fear of deportation.

“This is the first time I don’t feel safe in my community,” said Candida Garcia. “Me and many other families live under painful stress that today might be the day I am separated from my four children and my husband.”

Paschall emphasized that the law will still be the law and this bill is just a strict “non-intervention” policy on behalf of the city, meaning the city will not be involved in ICE immigration matters.

Although the vast majority of residents in the chambers were in favor of Hyattsville becoming a sanctuary city, opinions have been divided on both the city’s listserv and on the Speak Up HVL website.

Data provided by the city shows that, as of March 1, of 19 emailed comments to the major and council, 16 approved of the ordinance while two did not and one remained undecided.

The Speak Up survey received 190 responses on the issue with 102 voting in favor and 84 opposed. Four voters said they were undecided.

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