Immigrants again an issue in Taneytown

`Sanctuary city' status opposed by councilman

December 05, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,SUN REPORTER

A year after pushing to make English the official language in Taneytown, a councilman in the Carroll County city is proposing a measure intended to stave off illegal immigration.

A resolution drafted by Paul Chamberlain Jr. says Taneytown is "not a sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants, and calls for city officials and employees "to support the enforcement of our nation's immigration and nationality laws by local, state, and federal government officials, to the full extent permitted by law." Chamberlain plans to introduce the resolution during a council workshop today.

"We believe that we should stand up and not turn a blind eye to persons who circumvent the rule of law," the proposed resolution states, adding that "being a `sanctuary city' ... would demean and harm civic life and good order."

"It's a message that needs to be sent, and I think it needs to be sent clearly," Chamberlain said in an interview. "One of the biggest things people overlook is the fact that these people are lawbreakers."

Not all city officials see the need for such a move.

"It seems mean-spirited, as far as I'm concerned," Mayor Jim McCarron said. "It actually is a slap in the face to anybody that has ancestors who were immigrants, or is currently an immigrant."

Moreover, he added, "It's not an issue that we have to deal with in our town. ... It's like passing a resolution that we won't grow palm trees on Main Street."

Representatives of some immigration organizations observed that such measures typically have more to do with taking a stand than addressing an immediate problem.

"Most of the folks who are most interested in getting law enforcement in immigration enforcement tend to come from areas where they don't have a lot of immigrants," said Douglas Rivlin, spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based National Immigration Forum, a nonpartisan, pro-immigration advocacy organization. "It's more coming more out of politics than policy. It's a way of getting tough."

According to the 2000 Census, African-Americans and Latinos made up 1.7 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively, of Taneytown residents.

Although the city of about 5,500 isn't facing an immigrant influx, Chamberlain and fellow Councilman Carl E. Ebaugh said the resolution aims to head off problems before they arise.

"If more small towns would take the stand for what they believe is right, that would grow and push our state leaders to do their job," said Chamberlain, adding that not enough is being done to enforce immigration laws.

The "sanctuary movement" dates to the 1980s as a church-led effort to harbor Central Americans who were denied asylum, said Laureen Laglagaron, a policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. Concern about civil liberties after the 2001 USA Patriot Act and a "public safety rationale" have spurred more recent moves in that direction, she added.

These days, however, the concept of a "sanctuary" has expanded, and can include any kind of policy limiting local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, Laglagaron said.

"All of these state and local policies that are coming up, either pro-immigration or anti-immigration, it's definitely a response to the failure of federal leadership with respect to immigration law," Laglagaron said.

The concept of stopping local authorities from aiding federal enforcement efforts is not foreign to Maryland. In October, Takoma Park reaffirmed its "city of refuge" ordinance, on the books since 1985, which states that there will be "no City enforcement of immigration laws" or "inquiries into citizenship."

Last week's Republican presidential debate also ventured into the sanctuary issue. Candidates Mitt Romney and Rudolph W. Giuliani traded barbs, with Romney saying New York was a haven for illegal immigrants during the former mayor's tenure. Giuliani said Romney had a "sanctuary mansion" as Massachusetts governor, with "illegal immigrants" working on his home, and doing nothing about several so-called sanctuary cities.

In Maryland, Taneytown could become the first city to officially state that it is not a sanctuary city, said Scott Hancock, executive director of the Maryland Municipal League. Laglagaron said the Taneytown resolution is the first anti-sanctuary policy she has encountered.

Still, some question whether such a distinction is worth having and point to potential unintended consequences.

Anti-sanctuary policies could foster distrust of local authorities among immigrant communities, and impede law enforcement strategies such as community policing, said Rivlin and Flavia Jimenez, senior policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, the Latino civil rights and advocacy organization.

Immigrants can be victims, witnesses and informants, Rivlin said, and a wedge shouldn't be driven between them and police.

Fear of being asked about their status by law enforcement could lead women to remain silent about domestic violence, Jimenez said, or keep parents from taking their children for vaccinations.

"The city really could be running into major issues of safety and health, and again sending the wrong message to the immigrant community," Jimenez said. "Pushing the immigrant community generally deeper into the shadows does nothing to solve the undocumented immigrant problem."

Chamberlain's resolution comes nearly two months after County Commissioner Michael D. Zimmer suggested the county look into the possibility of denying services to adult illegal immigrants. In a letter released yesterday, Zimmer also advocated the creation of an illegal-immigration task force to examine the idea.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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