Then, slinging Esmeralda across her strong shoulders, Mayor Kathy Porter shoved her way through the riot into the looming dark municipal building. Stopping just inside the door she turned and bellowed at the crowd “SANCTUARY! SANCTUARY!”
Her Honor scrambled up the bell tower, the girl still on her back. The shout “SANCTUARY! SANCTUARY!” was taken up by the councilmembers perched on gargoyles. Below them in the square the police chief squared his shoulders, saluted the mayor and councilmembers above, hit himself once on the head with his own truncheon, and reechoed the cry “SANCTUARY!”
That’s the essence of what happened at last night’s Takoma Park city council meeting. The actual details are more mundane but if you must know . . .
The newish police chief Ronald Ricucci has been concerned about the city’s 1985 “sanctuary law.” That ordinance, enacted to aid refugees of civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, forbids the city police to bust or assist in busting people for being “illegal”. The police are to ignore immigration status of arrestees and citizens, and they are not to cooperate with the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
The INS agency, since renamed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is now part of the Department of Homeland Security. It now maintains a data base of wanted persons that includes “deported felons.” According to the city’s background paper “deported felons” includes “persons who have been convicted of felony drug trafficking, felony firearms trafficking, or a serious violent crime” who have been deported but have re-ported themselves.
Chief Ricucci requested the council review sanctuary law and create a loophole that would allow city police to arrest these deported felons. This small change would keep the law, and the spirit of the law intact, he said.
The huge crowd that turned out to speak against any changes to the law disagreed with that, however. There were a few exceptions, notably a foreign-born woman who said that her family had played by the rules and waited their turn in line to become legal immigrants, so she urged the council to make the changes requested by Chief Ricucci in order to keep the city safer.
That was not to be however. The Mayor and council, following a long, impassioned citizen comment period and a presentation from the police chief, turned him down unanimously. It was not a hard put-down, though. It wasn’t an unreasonable request that the chief was making, they said, but, as the Mayor said, she was concerned with the impression even a small change to the law would give. She did not want to feed the current national anti-immigrant hysteria, nor did she want to create anxiety among the city’s immigrant population.
The police chief was at pains to tell the crowd “I have heard and sincerely understood your concerns!” He said he understood the decision completely, would support it, and even support it at an upcoming national conference.
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