Baltimore City Council Unanimously Passes Resolution for Humane Treatment of Immigrants

Students with immigrant parents joined Baltimore City Council members at Monday’s meeting. (Photo by Justin Silberman)

When Yaslin comes home from school every day, the Baltimore City College senior expects to find her parents waiting inside to greet her. But lately, Yaslin has feared that the day might come when that’s not the case.

After recent raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Southeast Baltimore, many documented and undocumented immigrants have been on alert.

In response, Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen, a Democrat who represents the 1st District, held a news conference on Monday at City Hall, where Yaslin told a room full of supporters how she and her friends constantly feel the need to look over their shoulders.

“My friends and classmates admit that when someone knocks on their door, they have a moment of panic until they realize it’s probably just their neighbor or the mail,” said Yaslin, who declined to give her last name or say whether her parents were documented immigrants. “It’s also hard going to school every day. The paranoia lives in us as we are walking to the bus stop thinking that, at any moment, we could get taken away.”

The council then unanimously approved a resolution introduced by Cohen, a great-grandson of Holocaust survivors, calling on ICE “to adopt more humane tactics when operating in Baltimore City.”

Cohen, whose great-grandmother fled Austria, said he plans to send a strong message to ICE officials in Baltimore by personally hand-delivering the resolution to them. He compared the recent treatment of undocumented immigrants in Baltimore to the actions that proceeded the Holocaust.

“I stand because I would have wanted someone to stand for my great-grandmother,” Cohen said. “She left everything behind, including a family that perished in the gas chambers. So my people know what it means to face persecution. We know what it means to be put on a registry. We know what it means to be banned from certain places. We know what it means to be arrested by your own government for simply being the wrong religion or status.”

Matthew Bourke, a spokes-man for ICE, told the JT via email that the agency doesn’t “comme­­­­­nt on pending legislation as a general policy.”

But he noted that “ICE officers are charged with enforcing the Immigration and Nationality Act enacted by Congress, which includes arresting, detaining and removing those who have violated immigration law. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”

In its outline, the resolution urges ICE agents to focus all of their enforcement efforts “on arresting criminals who are causing actual harm” to the city through acts of violence, property thefts and other crimes.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, a Democrat, fully backs Cohen’s resolution, saying, “Immigrant communities are a blessing to Baltimore.”

“I don’t know what ICE is,” Young said. “It’s summer time coming up, and they need to melt. … We don’t need to deport anyone who has been here for over 10, 15 or 20 years.”

At Hampstead Hill Academy Elementary School, principal Matt Hornbeck said he is taking safeguards to help his Latin students, who make up roughly 40 percent of the school’s 800 students.

Hornbeck said his school recently held a training session for the parents of 25 students for “what to put in a box for the day you’re detained by the government.” Among the items are documents proving the person’s identity, letters of references from community members and a signed letter from parents detailing who would be responsible for their children.

There are also plans for the El Salvadoran Consulate to visit Hampstead Hill, where children who were born to immigrants from Honduras in the U.S. will sign up for Honduran passports in the event their parents are deported. By doing so, that will allow those children to travel to and from Honduras legally to visit their parents.

“These families need support and services, and they want to work and contribute to our local economy,” Hornbeck said. “Many immigrant families are scared and dismayed … and are scrambling to document their children with passports from home countries.”

While City Council resolutions have no bearing on the law, there is a bill in the state legislature, the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act, calling to limit the cooperation state law enforcement officials give to ICE.

In the meantime, Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who was personally invited to the news conference by Cohen, said his department does not engage in federal immigration enforcement.

He added there is no database in the department used to check a person’s immigration status and that Baltimore police officers will not work with law enforcement agencies for the sole purpose of enforcing immigration policies.

“I can’t say it enough, how the Baltimore Police Department is resolved to continue to interact with our entire community regardless of where you were born or where you came from,” Davis said. “We’re a welcoming city.”

Yaslin, who was born in Belize and has lived in Baltimore for the last nine years, said she can take solace in the fact that local police won’t be aiding ICE’s efforts.

To help combat the negative stigmas she feels Latin immigrants face, Yaslin is thinking of enrolling at the University of Baltimore in the fall in hopes of becoming a bilingual counselor.

“It’s very hard starting a new life in another country, where you don’t know the language, the culture or sometimes anyone,” said Yaslin, who will be the first member of her family to graduate from high school this spring. “It’s very scary sometimes for people who leave countries with a lot of crime, who are being directly attacked by gangs and the government. The fact they come here to seek asylum, then are detained and sent back is very scary.”

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