The Real Baltimore: Sanctuary Cities As Resistance to Donald Trump
In episode two, we discuss Trump’s plans to deport millions of immigrants and the potential impact of Trump’s Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real Baltimore. I’m your host, Kim Brown.
Today we look at how cities and counties across the country are planning to defy President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise, to immediately deport millions of undocumented immigrants, following an Obama administration that carried out a record number of deportations.
DONALD TRUMP: What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and… have criminal records –- gang members, drug dealers –- we have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could even be 3 million –- we are getting them out of our country, or we’re going to incarcerate.
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KIM BROWN: And Trump has also promised to cut federal aid to sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that have policies that range from simply welcoming immigrants, to refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, and in a moment, we’ll be joined by a panel of experts in our studio. But first, our reporter Jaisal Noor, takes a look at what sanctuary cities are.
DONALD TRUMP: Block funding for sanctuary cities. We block the funding. No more funding.
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JAISAL NOOR: Despite his threats to cut their federal funding, Donald Trump’s election has prompted major cities, from New York to California, to declare they will oppose him.
RAHM EMANUEL: To be clear about what Chicago is, it always will be a sanctuary city.
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JAISAL NOOR: The sanctuary movement has its roots in the 1980s, with churches offering shelter to Latin American refugees fleeing the slaughter left in the wake of US-backed death squads there.
Today, hundreds of cities and counties around the country offer some type of sanctuary policy, which varies greatly by jurisdiction, but the term itself can be misleading.
FRED TSAO: I mean, from the right, the use of the term suggests that undocumented immigrants congregate in these cities, and just are able to commit all sorts of crimes, and basically the cities are law enforcement-free zones, which is certainly not the case.
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JAISAL NOOR: Because there are only about 5,000 federal immigration officers nationwide, authorities rely heavily on local authorities to help with deportations. Some of the strongest sanctuary policies exist in cities like Chicago, and the encompassing Cook County, which prevents local authorities from asking for immigration status. Prevents the sharing of immigration status with federal authorities, and refuses to hold immigrants without a warrant. Courts have ruled these policies, known as ICE Detainers, are unconstitutional and violate the 4th Amendment.
On Monday, the nation’s capitol joins cities like Chicago, New York and LA, by offering legal representation to undocumented immigrants facing deportation; something not guaranteed in immigrations courts, like it is under normal legal proceedings.
Last year, grassroots groups and the ACLU helped defeat a measure aimed at banning funding for sanctuary cities in Florida.
BAYLOR JOHNSON: The bill was ultimately defeated, and we think that there are some real lessons here for folks in other states to learn, as well, and that is, you know, speak to law enforcement. The Florida Sheriffs Association opposes ICE Detainers. Even the Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged that there are serious, serious constitutional issues with these unconstitutional holds.
So, when law enforcement is deciding how to allocate resources, they should be putting a priority on things that work, and public safety.
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JAISAL NOOR: And as far as Trump’s threats to cut funding to sanctuary cities, that would be likely challenged in court, experts tell us.
LENA GRABER: I think we’ll inevitably end up in litigation. There are a lot of legal constraints on what the federal government can and can’t do, to pressure states and localities to do what they want. And it’s really important to understand sanctuary cities are not illegal policies, they’re not in defiance of federal law, they’re in fact, fully in line with our federal system, that says that states and localities get to govern their own local priorities and resources.
Although the federal government can offer incentives to localities to do what they want, they can’t coerce. I think it’ll be a long time before we have a clear answer to this question, because there’s a lot to sort out, and the Trump administration can’t do everything that it says it’s going to do.
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KIM BROWN: Well, our two guests in the studio now join us. Elizabeth Alex is a regional director for CASA Baltimore, which is a leading immigrants rights organization, and we’re also joined with Marc Rodriguez. He’s a long time immigrant’s rights activist. He currently serves as special assistant to Annapolis Alderman Jared Littmann, and he helps to identify and address issues in the city of Annapolis, especially those affecting the Hispanic and Latino populations. Thank you both for being here.
ELIZABETH ALEX: Thank you.
MARC RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.
KIM BROWN: So Marc, Alderman Littmann, on Monday, introduced a sanctuary city legislation, which would, in effect, prohibit city employees from asking people about their immigration status. Talk to us about why you think that this is important, and your response to Donald Trump, who says that he’ll cut funding to cities that have such policies.
MARC RODRIGUEZ: The legislation that Alderman Littman introduced, along with four other co-sponsors on the city council, is called a Non-Discrimination of Foreign-Born Residents Ordinance, for the City of Annapolis, and it’s designed exactly to do that. We started working on it along with CASA around six months ago, I believe, and so started before the current political scene, and the national politics going on right now with President-elect Trump.
We knew that we wanted to embrace diversity in Annapolis; we wanted to make Annapolis a welcoming city. I think that’s at the core values of the residents of Annapolis, and we wanted to recognize the contributions of a diverse cultural… the diverse contributions of our immigrant population, whether it’s through academic, social, religious, economic… improving economic quality of life in Annapolis.
We did this because, A, everyone should feel welcome in Annapolis regardless of where you came from, and I think the city representatives want to embrace that. Two, we believe that city resources should be used for city functions, and federal immigration enforcement is a federal government issue, and it shouldn’t be the job of our local authorities or police to be doing that. And, C, also for public safety, there’s significant under-reporting in crimes within the Hispanic and Latino community, because of fear that their immigration status may be questioned.
So, if you take away that element of that risk, then you go back to community policing. You start to bridge that gap and strengthen that trust between the community and the police, and that’s something that the local police seek. They’re not interested in acting as immigration enforcement officers. They want to do their job. There are other issues in the city that they want to take care of. And so if… you know, no one should feel unsafe in a city.
KIM BROWN: There are other jurisdictions that have similar policies in place, but this is new for Annapolis, so what has been the reaction so far since its introduction?
MARC RODRIGUEZ: So far, we’ve had overwhelming support. It’s amazing. We have five alderpersons that are sponsoring this legislation. I don’t remember when was the last time a piece of legislation had five co-sponsors. So, that’s good.
We have a lot of stakeholders support CASA, who’s been a great partner in this endeavor. NAACP is also supporting it. We have various other organizations; the City of Annapolis, Annapolis Human Relations Commission, the Annapolis police department and fire department are supportive of it. They have no objections to it, so that’s great, because they understand the benefits of this to the public.
But more importantly, the community at large has really shown up. Yesterday at the introduction of the bill, we had dozens and dozens of people show up and pack the city hall to show their support of this kind of introduction. So, the support is there.
We know that these kinds of policies will always have obstacles and challengers opposing it, but we’re confident that at the end of the day we’ll do what’s right, and the people who make the decisions will make the right decision. Because this is a time where our values are being tested, and so we have to prove what kind of values we want to portray.
KIM BROWN: So Liz, Baltimore has its own sanctuary city policy. Can you explain to us what exactly they look like, and how do they compare to other large cities with similar policies, such as San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia?
ELIZABETH ALEX: Sure. Baltimore in 2012 came out as a welcoming city for immigrants. Then Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was reacting to an increased push from the federal government, under the Obama administration, to force local jurisdictions, like Baltimore, to participate in a program called Secure Communities, which was a data-sharing, fingerprint-sharing program through our correctional facilities.
And so, she pushed this executive order, which applied to all city agencies, similar to the law that was introduced last night in Annapolis. Putting limitations on when local law enforcement would ask about immigration status, including the non-discrimination language about, to include provisions for people who don’t speak English as their first language, who were born in another country, and based on their immigration status.
Essentially, Baltimore’s welcoming city policy, if you will, is around our law enforcement. And putting limitations, so that everybody knows that a Baltimore city police officer should not be inquiring about somebody’s immigration status, and should not be proactively collaborating with federal immigration.
Now, that’s a little different from some of the other cities you mentioned, like Chicago, like Philadelphia, like LA, and those cities have a couple of things that we don’t have. One, is they have control of their own jail. And so much of the enforcement, these record numbers of enforcement over the last five, six years, have come through these collaborations with local jails. So, that at the point when a person is arrested for anything –- domestic violence dispute, driving without a license, DUIs –- they go in and they get fingerprinted at Central Booking here in Baltimore, and then Central Booking may share, and does share, those fingerprints with the FBI. The FBI then shares them with Homeland Security.
And if there’s a reason to think that that person may not be in the country legally, they’ll send back what’s called a Detainer Request, to the local jurisdiction, saying please hold that person until we can get there to interview them. We think we may want to take them into ICE custody.
So, local jurisdictions, like some of the cities you mentioned, have put limits on what circumstances they will hold someone for ICE, and usually it’s if there is probable cause to believe that they have actually committed a federal, criminal violation. Baltimore City can’t do that because our Central Booking, and our jail facilities are state agencies, they’re not run by the city itself. So, that’s why our policy is a little bit different, but does go pretty far in delineating the difference between our local law enforcement, and federal ICE.
We’ve seen an increase in people calling the police, going to community meetings where the Commissioner is going to be there. It’s a two-way street, right? The city and the police need to reach out, but people also need to reach back, and policies like this let that happen.
We’ll see. Mayor Pugh has verbally mentioned to us that she will also continue that same policy. I think the stakes are higher than they ever have been, so we’ll be looking forward to working with her to reiterate that policy, and to our new city council, to see how we can even strengthen it further.
KIM BROWN: And a question for you both. What has been the response to President-elect Trump saying that he’s going to deport millions of people immediately? I mean this is something that he’s listed in his priorities of things to do in the first 100 days in office. Are people afraid? Or, what has been the general mood in reaction?
ELIZABETH ALEX: I think we’re hearing from different segments of society, right? From immigrants, there was definitely a wave of exhaustion and fear. And now we’re still a little bit in that phase, but I think also getting to the phase of resilience and resistance and people really forming neighborhood level defense circles, right? To figure out how we’re going to help protect ourselves, and each other, and how we can fight back.
Whether it’s through the courts, whether it’s through participation in these types of local policies. Whether it’s finding allies within their church and school and other community members that support them, to engage other people in raising the message that these are not the values that we live by. Not just in the immigrant community, but in our larger community. And I think that’s the other group of folks that are reaching out.
There are people who haven’t really ever weighed in on immigration before, but we’re getting white churches, black churches, non-immigrant churches calling us, saying, how can we help? How can we become a sanctuary church? We’ve seen students on campuses across the state, organizing and saying, we are a sanctuary campus, even though there’s only five or six immigrants in our student body, we are a sanctuary campus because these are our values.
We’re seeing jurisdictions like Howard County, introducing very strong legislation to say this is not what our county believes in. We want to be a sanctuary county, and we don’t abide by the values that the Trump administration is espousing.
So, I think that gives me a lot of hope, and a lot of optimism, that the resistance is coming and is organizing.
KIM BROWN: Are you concerned, or at least have you observed, or heard, from people in positions of power in the government who are concerned, or have expressed concern, about Trump fulfilling his promise to cut federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities? In the case of Baltimore, this could be hundreds of millions of dollars. I know in New York City, it’s in the billions actually, like, $3.7 billion in federal funding that the city receives, that could be on the table if Donald Trump actually fulfils his threat, as it were.
So, are people saying that they are worried about Annapolis, or Baltimore, possibly losing money for taking this position about sanctuary cities and undocumented people?
MARC RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. Well, of course, it’s a conversation that we have to have. But in Annapolis, for example — again, this legislation is to provide ethical guidance in the guidelines and regulations around a clear separation of local law enforcement, and federal immigration. We don’t believe any of the terms within the ordinance violates federal law, so it depends how you define a sanctuary city to begin with. The scope of how Donald Trump wants to define it has a lot to do with it, as well.
But I would make the case more about, I think, the contributions of an immigrant community, in terms of those people who open more businesses, who are employing the most amount of people going forward. You know, the contributions that our new American families make, regardless of their status, is significant compared to any federal funding that can be withheld. So, I don’t think… so, I would argue for that component.
ELIZABETH ALEX: Yeah. And I would piggyback on Marc, I think that is a rational decision-making process that a lot of policymakers and elected officials are making. Right now, they have a population that is contributing heavily to the local economy, and that is growing and likely to keep continuing at ever-increasing rates. And so they’re weighing that, and the values of their constituents versus a potentially unconstitutional threat by the federal government that may, or may not, ever come to fruition, and that may be able to be fought back in court.
So, they’re being careful. But they’re making a calculated decision that this is what we’re going to do as a city, because it’s in line with our values, and that we don’t believe that it is in violation of any current federal laws, and that potentially federal laws that might attempt to overturn it, might actually be unconstitutional. Right? The 10th Amendment allows local jurisdictions to decide how they’re going to spend their resources. So, they’re going to spend them on what they care about.
MARC RODRIGUEZ: Yeah.
KIM BROWN: While many people, including us at the table, are speculating about what President-elect Trump will do on a number of fronts, we can actually look back and reflect on what President Obama has done on this issue, and there was a record number of deportations during the Obama administration. He earned the moniker, Deporter-in-Chief. How will President Obama be remembered on the issue of immigration?
ELIZABETH ALEX: I think he has a mixed record, and I don’t know how you feel, Marc. He has that label, but he also has the label as the president that brought millions of young people out of the shadows, and allowed them to work, and go to college in this country through the Docket(?) program. So, he has this mixed record.
I think history will tell the tale, depending on how some of these programs turn out.
MARC RODRIGUEZ: And to add to that, I think a main difference is, President Obama — I don’t think his policies had malintent against human rights abuses or civil rights abuses. Whereas perhaps President-elect Donald Trump, I don’t know where his heart lies exactly, but if we can just follow what he says and how he’s acted, he’s not supportive of the immigrant community. I think that’s a main difference, and kind of what the heart behind their policies are.
KIM BROWN: Well, Donald Trump’s cabinet confirmation hearings began this week, and on Tuesday his pick for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican from Alabama, was called in front of the Senate and he began his confirmation hearings, and several people were arrested during these hearings, chanting, “No Trump. No KKK. No racist USA.”
Now, critics say he’s one of the biggest anti-immigrant senators in the Senate, and here’s a clip of him talking about immigration reform.
JEFF SESSIONS: We must re-establish and strengthen the partnership between federal and local officers, to enhance a common and unified effort to reverse the rising crime trends. I did this as United States Attorney. I worked directly and continuously with local and state law enforcement officials. If confirmed, this will be one of my priority objectives. Make no mistake, positive relations and great communications between the people and their police are essential for any good police department.
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KIM BROWN: The Attorney General has significant power over deportation. What are your thoughts and reaction to what Senator Sessions had to say in his opening statement, to begin his confirmation hearings?
MARC RODRIGUEZ: Oh, I think it’s quite scary, and we have to read between the lines. The power vested in the Attorney General’s office is quite great, and you’ll see that impact policy all the way into the local level. They can set that policy, and course, direction of the agenda, and so, if Attorney General-to-be, potentially Jeff Sessions, comes into… gets nominated. I think it’s going to have a great negative impact on the immigrant community.
He’s talking about, in his quote, about strengthening the relationship between the federal law enforcement and local police. Well, what does he mean by that? If he’s talking about implementing programs like 287(g), where essentially ICE deputizes local police officers, and they can go out looking for people to detain, based on perhaps immigration or civil violations, that’s a cause for concern.
And then he’s talking about, well, you know, good communication and positive relations between the community and the police, is essential for good policing. And a good police department, well, sanctuary city legislation, and non-discrimination of foreign-born residents ordinance, and welcoming city ordinances, whatever you want to call it, is essential because that generates that trust between the community. The communication between the community and the people that he claims is so important for policing.
So, is he going to implement programs that tear apart families and scare a community, or is he going to support initiatives that provide for better community policing? I obviously hope it’s the latter, but I fear he’s more of the former.
ELIZABETH ALEX: And I think the juxtaposition there is quite clear. If we want our communities to be safe, they need to be working with the police. And if we want… And then everybody knows that that’s the basis of good community policing. If at the same time, we’re attempting to terrorize those same communities, through policies and procedures that violate civil rights, and force people into a deportation train, it’s going to be hard to make those two things mesh with each other.
KIM BROWN: Liz, you know Trump’s election and campaign rhetoric has really scared a lot of people in the community, and we actually wanted to play a clip from 17-year-old Cirian Flores Ordonez, who was originally from Honduras, and works with CASA Maryland.
CIRIAN FLORES ORDONEZ: (English translation) In our community, she’s noticed that there’s been a lot of different assaults targeting the Latino community. And she’s saying lately, last week in her community, there was someone who was assaulted and was jumped by some folks in the community. And they didn’t rob him; they didn’t take anything from him. So, she feels like it was targeted.
So, it’s very important for our communities to get out and protest, so that it is exposed that he is not the leader that we want, and he’s not what’s good for this country.
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KIM BROWN: So, what is your response? Because, a lot of this is not just about Donald Trump and his policies, but he has some very over-zealous supporters. We have seen a spike in hate crimes since the election. Well documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and as we just heard in the clip, the young lady said that the person she was with was attacked for apparently no reason –- no robbery motive or anything –- but she feels as if this individual was targeted because of who he was, and what he looked like.
So, are you hearing a lot more of that coming from CASA constituents in the state?
ELIZABETH ALEX: Sure. I think we’re hearing this locally as well as nationally, in refugee students in school, outside of school, in the community frequently. They’ve kind of always been easy targets in many places because of fear, or hesitation of calling the police, or a lack of understanding about that system, but that has increased in recent months. And I think it’s on all of us in the education community, and in our communities, to give those kids the support they need, and to also help them build a network to say that this is not right, this is not what we stand for.
I’ll welcome… and some of our schools in Baltimore have really reached out and put some strong messaging out there in the schools, and are facilitating dialogues and conversations where the students themselves are educating each other on what it feels like to be bullied. And how to respond if you see this happening to someone else, knowing that the perpetrators are a very small group of people and the victims are also a relatively small group of people, and there’s this whole other bystander category. This is really a parallel to our entire electorate, right?
How do we all get involved and stand on the side of what is right, and where our values are, to prevent and respond when we see this type of abuse of power and abuse of reflection? I guess, of what is happening at the federal level coming down to our neighborhoods, our schools and our communities. It’s going to take all of us to respond.
KIM BROWN: So, and this question is to you both. How can sanctuary cities play a role in resisting the incoming policies and rhetoric, also of President-elect Donald Trump?
MARC RODRIGUEZ: I think the best way I can summarize it is by something, actually Congressman Elija Cummings said at a dinner I was at, and he was the Latino speaker, and I was honored to hear him saying, he said, that at the local level us citizens, activists, community organizers, we are the last line of defense. Those words have stuck with me… stick with me every day, and every day they’re so much more important.
Cities that decide to be proactive and embrace diversity, embrace inclusion, are… have always been necessary, but even more today. And so, I think that’s what we can do to stand up against the policies of Trump, because we will not allow it.
KIM BROWN: Do you think this will be a nationwide movement, as well, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH ALEX: I think it already is.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, I want to thank you both for coming by and participating in this very important conversation. I’m sure we’re going to be talking about this a lot more, even beyond the cabinet confirmations of Donald Trump, if he sticks to his promise, which is yet to be determined. But these first 100 days of the Trump administration should be interesting, to say the least. So, thank you both for joining us.
MARC RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.
ELIZABETH ALEX: Thank you so much.
KIM BROWN: We have been joined with Elizabeth Alex; she is the regional director of CASA Maryland. We’ve also been joined by Marc Rodriguez. He is a long time immigration rights activist, and he is special assistant to Annapolis Alderman, Jared Littmann.
I’m Kim Brown. Thank you so much for watching The Real News Network. We deal with the real issues in The Real Baltimore.