January 11, 2016; Montgomery County Media
Today, a convoy of vehicles managed to make it to a few areas in Syria where starvation is the status quo. There is no indication yet whether they will be allowed to return with the additional supplies that will be needed if residents are to survive. These realities often go unacknowledged when refugees are refused admission or deported en masse, as has been the case starting last week with Central American families.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council have released a joint statement in response to the Department of Homeland Security’s deportation raids and their impact on the community. We reprint it in full below because it is so grounded and both local and global in its orientation:
“Our nation faces a significant humanitarian challenge in how we deal with the thousands of children and families fleeing violence in Central America. Current conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras merit granting special temporary protection to these children and parents who have legitimate reason to fear for their lives if returned to their countries.
“We recognize that the recently announced federal policy is narrowly crafted to apply only to those who have been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court. But the obvious truth is that many of these children and parents have not had adequate legal representation in these proceedings. No deportations should take place without ensuring that the person to be deported received adequate representation and due process of law under our Constitution.
“Imagine being a teenager in a formal process in a forbidding setting in a strange land where they speak a language you do not understand. What chance would you have?
“These children and parents deserve an opportunity to have their cases presented properly as they seek refuge in our nation. And for those ordered to be deported after receiving due process, no deportations should take place unless the federal government guarantees legally required family reunification and support to help them live in their own countries safely. Failure to guarantee these essential protections is unthinkable as it will deliver them back to the very violence and human trafficking that caused many of them to flee to the United States.
“We in Montgomery County, especially our public safety officers, have worked extremely hard to build trust with our immigrant population. We are convinced this is the key to reducing crime and building a thriving, welcoming community where all can live in peace.
“We are very concerned that any federal enforcement actions in our county not undermine this trust and threaten public safety in our community.
“We want all of our community members to know that they are free to go about their daily life, to go to schools and work, social service agencies, hospitals and medical clinics, community organizations and public buildings, as well as grocery stores and other commercial areas.
“We respectfully recommend that federal authorities proceed with great caution and respect for the values of our country and requirements of our Constitution. Please take the time necessary to ensure that any deportation is based on a court action only after due process and, if the deportation is ruled to be appropriate, carried out with the protections required by law.
“Please assure us that our residents are free to go to school and work, attend services at their faith congregations, seek needed medical attention, and ask for help from our police without fear. A warrant to arrest one person must not be used to round up many.
“We applaud the recent federal budget commitment to spend $750 million to address the root causes that have led people to flee Central America. We ask that the federal government dramatically step up the pace of the existing Central American Minors Program to provide a legal in-country path for children with parents lawfully in the United States. And we ask that local governments here in the United States be given adequate federal support for receiving these children and helping them reunite with their parents.
“To the members of our Montgomery County community who are justifiably concerned about the federal government’s most recent deportation actions, we encourage you to go about your daily activities free of fear.
“Go to your schools, work, and faith congregations, social service agencies, hospitals and medical clinics, community organizations and public buildings, as well as grocery stores and other commercial areas.
“Continue helping us work hard every day to make Montgomery County one of the very best places to live, work, play, and age with dignity in the nation.
“Please know that our county police will play no role in enforcing federal immigration law. If you have reason to need help from our police, do not be afraid to call on them.
“We will continue to work closely with our community-based nonprofit and faith based partners to develop ongoing ‘know your rights’ training around the county, increase pro bono legal support, and develop and distribute educational materials as part of a bilingual public information campaign.
“We are proud of the people who have come to Montgomery County from every corner of the globe. You have enriched our community, and you will always be welcome here. Some of us have had the privilege of traveling to our Sister City in Morazán, El Salvador where we experienced the beauty of Central America and the graciousness of its people. We know that if we all act with calm and dignity and work together, we have the capacity to get through these difficult times and improve the lives of those who have come to our country and those who remain in their native lands.”