Chestertown did not awaken today as a sanctuary city despite rumors that the town council would be voting on the emotionally charged immigration status issue.
Mayor Chris Cerino prefaced Tuesday’s Town Council meeting to a packed room by saying, “I want to make it very clear tonight that we are not here as the town council to vote on becoming a sanctuary city. This is basically an information gathering session. It’s what I’ve always intended it to be.”
The issue of sanctuary city status, pitting cities, towns and states against President Trump’s executive order has been a hot button issue from Miami to Los Angeles.
A sanctuary city, or state, is defined by its refusal by local law enforcement to assist in federal policies to deport undocumented immigrants. Although the local law enforcement participation is voluntary, the Trump administration has threatened to penalize non-participating cities and states with federal funding cuts, although the Supreme Court has previously ruled against funding cuts unless directly related to national interests in the issue. A state-level proposal for sanctuary status, “The Maryland Trust Act”, is currently under consideration in Annapolis.
Cerino said that his office had been flooded with emails both supporting and denouncing sanctuary city status and although two weeks ago an agenda item to present a request for sanctuary city status had been added to the council’s list, the request was tabled because of Maryland’s consideration of sanctuary status.
Because no vote was to be taken by the council, speakers from the Kent-Queen Anne’s Indivisibles, one of 6,000 national grassroots with a “focus on local, defensive congressional advocacy and to embrace progressive values”, along with others, spoke more generally about immigrant status in the US and sought to demythologize attitudes about legal and undocumented immigrants’ roles in our society.
Rose Granillo, a member of Indivisibles said, “We’re not here to ask Chestertown to be a sanctuary city, yet we are seeking clarity on what lies ahead for families who feel terrified or uncertain about their place in our society. Kent County is home to 850 immigrant families, 1700 in Queen Anne’s, and we don’t know and don’t feel we need to know their status. They are our neighbors, friends and family member and most of them have been here for many years,” she said.
Marcia Brown told a personal story about a neighbor who 19 years ago crossed the border with his stepfather and sister, went to school, learned English and translated for the neighborhood, worked on a dairy farm to help the family, passed his GED, started a landscaping business, married and had two children only to be threatened by ICE that he and his wife would be deported but “not to worry, because his two children would be well taken care of in foster care.
Town Councilwoman Liz Gross described her path to citizenship from Canada when she came to the US in 1992. “One might think that 10 years before 9/11 the immigration process would have been simple for a Canadian speaking English and who was about to marry an American who served in the senior executive service of the US government. It was far from easy. The process took over a year even back then. I was subjected to personal indignities that are hard to describe,” she said. She continued to explain disrespect verging on abuse to non-white immigrants requesting temporary visas to visit families for Christmas when making their presentation to the US consulate in Montreal.
Lynda Kuiper addressed the fiduciary responsibility of government to its taxpayers citing Chestertown’s application for a USDA grant for work to continue on the marina and questioned if property taxes would be affected by sanctuary city status, or if the ongoing financial stress on the county’s educational system would be impacted even more. “I haven’t heard anyone ask what it would cost if the town became a sanctuary city,” she said. When asking “how many here would take in immigrant into their homes?” Many attending the meeting yelled, “we would.”
Chairman of Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee Tim Kingston also attended the meeting. He said that as a member of State Legislative District 36 which includes Chestertown he was concerned with the rumors of a possible Chestertown sanctuary city status. Although not listed on the on the agenda’s speaking list, Mayor Cerino welcomed his participation in the dialogue. Kingston, underscoring Councilman Marty Stetson’s remark “that we are a nation of laws,” said that “the only concern I have at this point is illegal immigration. He cited the 1996 US Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act. “Simply put, that act, from Congress to state and local governments said that you should not hinder local personnel from relaying information about someone’s immigration status to Customs.” He added that he did not see that as being an issue locally.
Cerino’s summation included a key issue that makes Chestertown a nonsensical choice for sanctuary status: Chestertown has no town jail. It is through local municipal jails that Immigration and Customs Enforcement request assistance either by requesting additional hold-over time for suspected undocumented immigrants, or for police to act in their stead by enforcing federal immigration policies, requests usually made by cities with large immigration populations.
The Mayor said that since any arrests are taken to the county jail, the consideration of any kind of sanctuary status could be taken up at the county level.
More coverage of the council’s response to the fact-finding meeting will be available Thursday.
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