Council votes to make Hyattsville a ‘sanctuary city’

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A group of students from Rosa Parks Elementary School voiced their support for the sanctuary city ordinance at the city council meeting March 20. Photo by Ben Simasek

BY BEN SIMASEK — The city council voted Monday night to make Hyattsville a “sanctuary city,” declaring that the city’s police force and staff will not intervene in federal immigration matters. Councilmembers voted 8-2 in favor in the first vote on the ordinance, to formally introduce the legislation. A second vote for final adoption of the ordinance is scheduled for the council meeting April 17.

Councilmembers Paula Perry (Ward 4) and Ruth Ann Frazier (Ward 5) voted against the ordinance. Perry, who said she was “on the fence” about co-sponsoring the ordinance after being asked, expressed concern about people potentially misunderstanding the limited scope of the legislation, leading to a “false sense of security.” Perry argued that the legislation does not protect people from the actions of federal, state, or county officials and therefore Hyattsville should not consider itself a true “sanctuary.”

“I don’t want anyone to have any false hopes, that they’re completely protected when they’re not,” Perry said.

Council President Edouard Haba (Ward 4) underscored the importance of spreading public awareness about the details of the ordinance. “I invite everyone, even those who oppose it, to help us pass that message of clarity to make sure that everyone knows what this means,” said Haba.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth thanked the dissenting councilmembers for “tempering their opposition to ordinance 2017-02” but admonished what she perceived as patronizing and disingenuous statements from dissenting councilmembers. She cited the many community members directly impacted by the ordinance who made their voices heard at previous meetings with a clear understanding of what they were advocating for. “They were pleading with us to show support and compassion,” Hollingsworth said.

“Standing for something requires courage; so does standing against it. For better or for worse, the convictions that people had were abandoned in order to disguise their original intent, and I can say from personal experience that that is lawmaking and policymaking of the most dangerous kind,” Hollingsworth added. “Since this ordinance doesn’t go far enough, I look forward to my colleagues’ full support in making the lives of immigrant residents in this city exponentially better in the ways that they feel this ordinance does not.”  

While the immigration policies of the new presidential administration have raised fear and uncertainty in communities across the country, large numbers of Hyattsville residents have mobilized over the past several weeks to send a message of unity and support for families with undocumented members. Although the city’s legislative authority is limited to local government employees and does not apply to state or national agencies, the ordinance affirms that Hyattsville city officials will continue to serve and protect all Hyattsville residents, regardless of immigration status.