Last month, the Department of Homeland Security expanded a federal information-sharing program to Baltimore that targets illegal immigrants. Looking to ease concerns about the program, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake signed an executive order earlier this month updating the city’s anti-discrimination policy toward immigrants. Last night, she presented the executive order at an event organized by Casa de Maryland at the Southeast Anchor branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. WYPR’s Matt Purdy was there and filed this report.
Mayor Rawlings-Blake greeted about a hundred members of Baltimore’s Hispanic community in the lingua franca of the evening.
She stuck to plain English after that.
“This executive order will make clear that all victims and witnesses of crime should feel safe reporting crime to city police officers regardless of their immigration status.”
The mayor’s executive order updates the city’s anti-discrimination policy. It says, in part, that the city doesn’t discriminate based on national origin, immigration status, or the inability to speak English.
Miguel Deluna runs a corner store near Johns Hopkins Hospital. He’s from the Dominican Republic and says through an interpreter that he has been a victim of police discrimination in the past. He was heartened by the Mayor’s address… but what he’s worried about is people that are here undocumented and that could be discriminated against also.
Or, deported. In February, the Department of Homeland Security expanded the controversial Secure Communities program to include Baltimore city. Here’s how it works… After every arrest, local and state law enforcement send fingerprints to the FBI, to check for a criminal record. This is standard procedure.
What is different about Secure Communities is that those fingerprints are then sent along to the Department of Homeland Security, where United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, checks for immigration status. If ICE confirms an immigrant is in the U.S. illegally, they can have local or state law enforcement hold the individual for up to 48 hours to be interviewed by ICE agents. The program now covers a little under 80-percent of the jurisdictions in the country, including the entire state of Maryland.
According to its website, ICE has deported 318 convicted criminal illegal aliens from the state since 2009. The Mayor’s executive order doesn’t interfere with ICE’s efforts. Once again, Rawlings-Blake.
“Not participating isn’t an option. A jurisdiction can’t decide whether or not they’re going to participate in Secure Communities. What I can say is that our Baltimore City Police Officers are not going to be asking citizens or residents about their immigration status.”
“The bottom line is if you don’t know what your rights are then you don’t know how to exercise them.”
That’s Bishop Angel Nunez, a pastor at Bilingual Christian Church of Baltimore. He says the event, which included representatives from the city’s health department, schools, and police department, helped clear up lingering questions within the Hispanic community. Benjamin Johnson is Executive Director of the American Immigration Council, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on immigration issues.
“Well, I think it’s an important signal to send to communities and to law enforcement about that… we as a city or we as a community don’t racially profile, that we encourage people to report crimes, I mean those are important statements to make. But, it’s yet to be seen how effective they are.”
The mayor says the police department will continue outreach efforts in areas of the city with a large Hispanic community.
I’m Matt Purdy, reporting in Baltimore, for 88-1, WYPR.