Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mount Rainier Strives to Find Voice in Immigration Debate

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

Mount Rainier, a city of 9,000 in Prince George's County, Maryland, did not pass Ordinance 2-2008 during a scheduled vote on February 19 after council members Alta Morton, Bryan Knedler and Mayor Malinda Miles voted to table the ordinance indefinitely. Council member Jimmy Tarlau, who supports the ordinance, explains that "after receiving a good many e-mails and listening to the public comment, I believe our community is divided on this issue so there is in fact no mandate on how to vote."

The ordinance, proposed by Mount Rainier City Council Member Pedro Briones, reaffirms the city's tradition of respecting the human rights and dignity of all residents and establishes city policy regarding federal immigration laws. The legislation would also prohibit "any agent officer, employee, contractor or subcontractor of the City" from assisting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the Bureau of Immigration and Custom's Enforcement (ICE) in "any investigation or arrest of any persons based solely on their immigration status."

Ordinance Draws Support During Public Hearing

Ordinance 2-2008 received sound support from community members during a February 12 public hearing at Mount Rainier City Hall. One community member said he was "proud of Mount Rainier for considering adopting this ordinance." Another resident affirmed that "this ordinance is in standing with who we are at Mount Rainier."

The hearing also drew the attention of a number of elected officials, state groups and individuals from outside the area. Maryland State Delegate Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George's County) and Prince George Councilman Will Campos encouraged Mount Rainier officials to approve the ordinance and to take a stance against the anti-immigrant rhetoric. American University law professor Jayesh Rathod suggested that, from a legal perspective, Mount Rainier should pass the ordinance because it could protect documented immigrants as well as undocumented immigrants.

Absence of Federal Legislation a Persistent Community Concern

At the same time, a number of community members opposed the idea of the Mt. Rainier City Council tackling the issue of immigration. One community member argued during the hearing that the City Council should not address an issue that she considers strictly federal. Another resident said that "it is not the right time to pass this resolution" and suggested the need for an on-going dialogue between the community members before such an ordinance is considered.

Community Hopes to Reflect on Valuable Lessons and Move Forward

Despite the Council's decision to table Ordinance 2-2008, Councilman Tarlau found the experience educational. Though he recognizes that the community is divided on the issue and that immigration laws are a federal issue, he believes that "how we deal with diversity in our community is definitely a local issue."

"I firmly believe that passing an ordinance that states that we will not ask questions about people's immigration status puts us on record that we think the immigration laws in this country are broken and that we are a community that welcomes immigrants into a community," said Councilman Tarlau. "At the end of the day we all want to work together to improve our City and I will continue to work hard to do that."

You can join the many voices that support Mount Rainier's effort to uphold the inherent value and dignity of every member of its community:

Contact Council members Pedro Briones and Jimmy Tarlau and thank them for supporting the human rights and dignity of all Mount Rainier residents regardless of their immigration status:

- Pedro Briones: 301-277-1833
- Jimmy Tarlau: 301-335-6099