Hundreds gathered at the Takoma Park Community Center on Feb. 4 for a public teach-in on the city’s sanctuary ordinance and how it protects their immigrant neighbors. “There’s a lot of angst in the community,” said Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg, “but we’re here to say that it’s business as usual in Takoma Park.”
The angst stems from a series of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump related to curbing immigration, including one that targets sanctuary cities like Takoma Park specifically.
The order, titled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, withholds federal funding from cities that offer sanctuary to illegal immigrants.
According to Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart, the city stands to lose $90,000 in such federal funds, but Takoma Park has no intention of revoking its ordinance. “We’re already fundraising,” said Stewart. “We’ll make up that money [in other ways.]”
At the teach-in, however, Maryland State Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez warned that “that bill is mild compared to what we are going to see moving forward. It’s coming, and it’s coming very soon.”
The crowd filled the auditorium and several overflow rooms where the speakers and panel were live streamed on television screens, and some even sat on the floor in the aisles to listen as poems were recited, music was played and a brief history of Takoma’s sanctuary ordinance was given.
“When we organized together last time, it was about politics,” said community activist Tebabu Assefa while explaining one of the amendments made to the ordinance in 2007. “This time it is about humanity.”
Lilo Gonzalez led the assembled crowd in several songs in both English and Spanish. “As a former refugee from El Salvador, it is my duty to be here,” Gonzalez said. “With this new administration, it’s time to come be a part of this movement and work hard to make this country a country for everybody.”
Mayor Kate Stewart moderated a panel discussion with City Manager Suzanne Ludlow; Police Chief Alan Goldberg; Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich; Gustavo Torres, Executive Director, CASA de Maryland and Denyse Sabagh Esq., a Partner with Duane Morris.
Katie Burn was one of the audience members and explained that her stake in the matter was personal. “My husband is an immigrant,” Burn said. “This is near and dear to us.”
President Trump’s executive order says that “it is the policy of the executive branch to ensure, to the fullest extent of the law, that a State, or a political subdivision of a State, shall comply” and cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But at the teach-in, city leaders and activists alike from Takoma Park made clear that they weren’t changing the ordinance or their operating procedures. “We have no interest or authority in the deportation of immigrants,” Goldberg said in a statement. “The mission and commitment of the Takoma Park Police Department is the safety and welfare of all our residents.”
The sentiment expressed by the hundreds of residents that filled the community center seemed to be the same. “This is a temporary setback,” Assefa said. “Love will win.”
This article appeared in the March 2017 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.