Crowd packs room for im­mi­gra­tion de­bate

Kent County News - - FRONT - By PETER HECK pheck@thekent­coun­

CHESTERTOWN — A stand­in­groom crowd filled the up­stairs meet­ing room at Chestertown’s town hall Tues­day as the coun­cil heard res­i­dents’ con­cerns about im­mi­gra­tion law and the role of im­mi­grants in the com­mu­nity.

The crowd, many of whom held signs or wore T-shirts stat­ing their views, was on hand be­cause of re­ports that the coun­cil was go­ing to vote on mak­ing Chestertown a “sanc­tu­ary city.” Sanc­tu­ary cities are those that limit their co­op­er­a­tion with im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties by in­struct- ing lo­cal law en­force­ment of

fi­cers not to re­port or de­tain un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in their ju­ris­dic­tion.

On Jan. 24, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed an ex

ec­u­tive or­der that would cut fed­eral fund­ing for cities that adopt a “sanc­tu­ary city” pol

icy. The or­der also in­structs im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials to tar­get im­mi­grants “who have com­mit­ted acts that con­sti­tute a charge­able crim­i­nal of­fense.”

Many of those present at the coun­cil meet­ing were there in re­sponse to a let­ter from Tim Kingston, chair­man of the Queen Anne’s County Repub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, which asked Re- pub­li­cans to “flood” the meet­ing to “show that here on the Eastern Shore the rule of law is still im­por­tant.”

Mayor Chris Cerino, in an email to coun­cil mem­bers be­fore the meet­ing, wrote, “there is no pend­ing or­di­nance or leg­is­la­tion for the Coun­cil to vote on tonight — it’s sim­ply a com­mu­nity dis­cus­sion be­ing driven by con­cerned cit­i­zens.”

Tues­day, Cerino opened the dis­cus­sion by re­peat­ing that the coun­cil was not plan­ning to vote on any mea­sure re­lated to im­mi­gra­tion. He said the dis­cus­sion was sched­uled be­cause he re­ceived nu­mer­ous emails — “the most I’ve got­ten in a sin­gle day about a sin­gle topic” — af­ter an ex­ec­u­tive or­der ban­ning im­mi­grants from seven pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries by Trump Jan. 27 caused de­lays and demon­stra­tions at nu­mer­ous U.S. air­ports.

Cerino read sev­eral emails he re­ceived, both sup­port­ing free im­mi­gra­tion and warn­ing against the danger the writ­ers feel it poses. One of the lat­ter, which he called his fa­vorite, said “You can’t even take care of the peo­ple you have. Are you crazy?”

Cerino then turned the floor over to mem­bers of the ac­tivist group In­di­vis­i­ble, which formed a task force to ad­dress im­mi­gra­tion is­sues.

Rose­mary Ramsey-Granillo of Chestertown was the first speaker. She said the group was “seek­ing clar­ity on what lies ahead for fam­i­lies who ei­ther feel ter­ri­fied or un­cer­tain about their place in our coun­try.” She said Kent County is home to 850 Latino com­mu­nity mem­bers, while Wash­ing­ton Col­lege has 145 in­ter­na­tional stu­dents from 37 coun­tries.

She said the Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency was ramp­ing up raids around the coun­try and in the lo­cal com­mu­nity. “This is a very real fear,” she said. “We want to know that our com­mu­nity will be a place of com­pas­sion and un­der­stand­ing for ev­ery­one,” she said.

Jan Elvin of Chestertown said the ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­quires lo­cal po­lice to de­tain im­mi­grants for ICE to pick up. She called it “a strain on our scarce lo­cal re­sources” to ask lo­cal po­lice to spend time and money to per­form tasks that are in the fed­eral, not lo­cal do­main.

Jan Eliassen, who em­i­grated to the U.S. in 1953 as a small boy, told of the “kind and gen­er­ous” treat­ment he re­ceived from Amer­i­cans when he ar­rived. He said he would “roll over in my grave in shame” if any of his de­scen­dants ever den­i­grates an im­mi­grant.

Tim Fields of Kennedyville said im­mi­grants are sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tors to the economy of the area, work­ing in restaurants and ho­tels and help­ing grow pro­duce. He said los­ing im­mi­grant work­ers would be a blow to the county. He said stud­ies show that im­mi­grants are less likely to com­mit crimes than na­tive-born cit­i­zens, that they paid $10.6 bil­lion in lo­cal and state taxes in 2010 and pay Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity taxes. Nor do they qual­ify for wel­fare or other ben­e­fits, he said.

Cerino said he had done a good deal of re­search on sanc­tu­ary city sta­tus. He said de­por­ta­tions un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama were the high­est in his­tory, more than all other 20th-cen­tury pres­i­dents com­bined. “It’s not just a Repub­li­can or Demo­crat thing.”

He said many cities have balked at hold­ing im­mi­grants for ICE be­cause of the cost of in­car­cer­at­ing them. But Chestertown doesn’t have a jail, so be­com­ing a sanc­tu­ary city “doesn’t re­ally make sense,” he said.

Cerino said any­one ar­rested in Chestertown is sent to the county de­ten­tion cen­ter, so the town would have no role in in­ter­ac­tions with ICE. He said he spoke to the Kent County Sher­iff’s Of­fice about the is­sue and was told that fed­eral of­fi­cials had not made a sin­gle re­quest for the county to hold a pris­oner for ICE.

Also, he said, Po­lice Chief Adrian Baker told him that vi­o­lent crime by il­le­gal im­mi­grants ac­counts for less than 1 per­cent of all cases. “As mayor, I have to make a cost-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis,” he said. “If ICE agents get or­dered by Don­ald Trump to raid Kent County, is it re­ally go­ing to mat­ter if we de­clare our­selves a sanc­tu­ary city? I don’t know the an­swer to that.”

Cerino then asked coun­cil mem­bers for their thoughts on the is­sue.

Coun­cil­woman Liz Gross de­scribed her ex­pe­ri­ences when she im­mi­grated to the U.S. from Canada in 1992 and be­came a cit­i­zen. She said that even as an English speaker from a friendly na­tion, she ex­pe­ri­enced per­sonal in­dig­ni­ties and high cost.

Gross said po­ten­tial im­mi­grants nowa­days face even greater bar­ri­ers when they come to es­cape danger in their home coun­tries, to take jobs few Amer­i­cans are will­ing to take. How­ever, she said the is­sue is most prop­erly ad­dressed by the Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers.

She ended by say­ing that ev­ery­one ex­cept “full-blooded na­tive Amer­i­cans” is a de­scen­dent of im­mi­grants.

Coun­cil­woman Linda Kuiper fo­cused on the po­ten­tial cost to the town of adopt­ing sanc­tu­ary sta­tus. She said it would en­dan­ger fed­eral grants and loans amount­ing to as much as $2.5 mil­lion that the town has ap­plied for.

She listed other po­ten­tial neg­a­tive ef­fects in­clud­ing pos­si­ble loss of the hospi­tal, re­tirees de­cid­ing not to come to Heron Point and in­creased load on the Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices. She said the loss of ben­e­fits would have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the town bud­get, in­clud­ing cuts in recre­ation, re­cy­cling and other pop­u­lar pro­grams.

Coun­cil­man Sam Shoge said he saw mer­its on both sides of the is­sue. “It’s re­ally just a mat­ter of what we do with our un­doc­u­mented res­i­dents who are here now,” he said. Shoge said un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants work very hard at jobs many Amer­i­cans won’t take, “and there is a cost we pay when those jobs are not filled.”

Shoge said the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem needs to be re­formed, and he hoped lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives could come to a con­sen­sus on the is­sue. He told about his par­ents who im­mi­grated legally and re­al­ized the ben­e­fits of the Amer­i­can dream.

He agreed the sanc­tu­ary city de­ci­sion was ul­ti­mately an is­sue for the county, not the town.

Coun­cil­man Marty Stet­son said the coun­try is based on the rule of law, and that im­mi­gra­tion laws are made on the fed­eral level. “If you want them changed, tell your con­gress­men and sen­a­tors. That’s where your gripe has to be. Don’t put us as a town in con­flict with the (fed­eral) gov­ern­ment,” he said. He said lo­cal de­fi­ance of fed­eral au­thor­ity is what led to the Civil War.

Stet­son de­scribed sanc­tu­ary city sta­tus for Chestertown as “as so­lu­tion look­ing for a prob­lem.”

Kingston, who is a re­tired po­lice of­fi­cer, said he was con­cerned with il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. He said ICE de­ported 360 crim­i­nal and 130 non-crim­i­nal im­mi­grants from Mary­land in 2015; in 2016, the to­tals were 340 crim­i­nal and 115 non-crim­i­nal. He said ICE doesn’t step in to de­port im­mi­grants un­til they have been iden­ti­fied by the le­gal sys­tem.

Kingston also cited the fi­nan­cial costs to the com­mu­nity from adopt­ing sanc­tu­ary sta­tus. He said he asked the coun­cil to make sure it didn’t adopt any pol­icy that would limit en­force­ment of cus­toms.

Fields asked Kingston what his opin­ion was on a path to ci­ti­zen­ship for im­mi­grants.

Kingston said there is a path for those who come to the coun­try legally. “If you come into the United States with­out go­ing through cus­toms, it’s called a crime,” he said.

Fields said ICE is de­tain­ing peo­ple who came in legally but have ex­pired visas. “That’s not a crime,” he said. “It’s a civil of­fense.”

At this point, as sev­eral au­di­ence mem­bers be­gan to speak at once and in­ter­rupt each other, Cerino cut off the dis­cus­sion so the coun­cil could get to other agenda items.

Kingston said other speak­ers on the con­ser­va­tive side had not been al­lowed to speak.

Cerino said the con­ser­va­tive viewpoint had been stated by two coun­cil mem­bers in ad­di­tion to Kingston. He said the speak­ers would be wel­come to re­turn to the coun­cil to present their side.

In ad­di­tion to the com­ments at the meet­ing, state Sen. Steve Her­shey, R-36-Up­per Shore, and the other mem­bers of the District 36 del­e­ga­tion to the Gen­eral Assem­bly wrote to Cerino Tues­day.

The let­ter, which Her­shey copied to the Kent County

News, read in part, “The cost of Chestertown adopt­ing sanc­tu­ary poli­cies could be­come ex­pen­sive. Sanc­tu­ary poli­cies defy fed­eral laws to which the state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments are bound, this could po­ten­tially af­fect fed­eral grant monies that Chestertown, Kent County or Mary­land could re­ceive. As we ad­vo­cate for fund­ing at both the State and Fed­eral level for op­er­a­tions and cap­i­tal projects, we are con­cerned that such an ac­tion would have an ad­verse im­pact on our ef­forts.”

All told, the im­mi­gra­tion dis­cus­sion lasted slightly more than one hour.


From left, Maria An­du­jar, An­nette DiMag­gio and Karla Al­tami­rano, all of Sudlersville, show signs sup­port­ing the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity at the Chestertown Coun­cil meet­ing Tues­day.


Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino states his po­si­tion on sanc­tu­ary city sta­tus for the town at the Tues­day coun­cil meet­ing. Lis­ten­ing, from left, are Town Man­ager Bill Inger­soll and coun­cil­women Linda Kuiper and Liz Gross.

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