BY KRISSI HUMBARD — “I am happy! I am happy!” cried Candida Garcia.
Chants and cheers filled the council chambers after the Hyattsville City Council cast its final vote in favor of the “sanctuary city” ordinance on April 17. The ordinance passed 8-2, with councilmembers Paula Perry (Ward 4) and Ruth Ann Frazier (Ward 5) voting against it. Councilmember Kevin Ward (Ward 1) was absent.
The ordinance will take effect and become city law on May 7. Hyattsville will be the first city in Prince George’s County to become a sanctuary city and just the second in the state of Maryland.
The ordinance puts to paper a practice already in place in Hyattsville. Under the ordinance, city police are not allowed to enforce federal immigration laws. City officials cannot ask about anyone’s immigration status or discriminate against anyone on the basis of that status. City officials are also barred from using city resources “to support federal civil immigration enforcement operations or activities.”
The council chamber was packed for last night’s vote, mostly with supporters of the ordinance. Residents wearing CASA shirts and children holding signs that read “We Are Here to Stay” made up the majority of the crowd. The feeling in the chamber after the final vote was joyous, with cheers led by Garcia, a fervent and vocal supporter of the ordinance.
Rommel Sandino, lead organizer in the Community Organizing Department at CASA, said, “we are celebrating the decision of our legislators in making Hyattsville a sanctuary city, which sends a clear message to our immigrant community that as a city, we value and prioritize welcoming and embracing all residents.”
After the vote, Garcia could not contain her excitement, jumping up and down and repeating “I am happy!” She called the ordinance “necessary” and said “we need to be together and to work together through this.”
Another resident echoed the need to come together.
“We’re living in very critical times in this state and in the United States … and now more than ever, we as a people of this country must unite,” said Antonia Surro, through a translator. She added that “[immigrants are] working beside you to make Hyattsville a better place.”
A few children from Rosa Parks Elementary School also spoke during public comment, urging the council to pass the sanctuary city ordinance “to keep families together.”
Before the vote, councilmembers shared their reasons for supporting the ordinance.
“Hyattsville is a welcoming and inclusive community,” said Shani Warner (Ward 3). “This vote will make us stronger. Todos somos Hyattsville.”
Councilmember Thomas Wright (Ward 2) said, “whether anyone among us has migrated or immigrated from any corners of our great planet, please know that your presence among us in Hyattsville is most welcome.”
Not everyone was happy with the vote, however.
Lou Kerdock, a Hyattsville resident since 1976, again expressed his opposition to the ordinance during public comment.
“My thoughts are: it’s going to be suicide for Hyattsville,” he said.
Kerdock cited recent crimes, concerns over loss of funding and worry that the police would be unable to do their jobs, but went on to acknowledge that most undocumented immigrants are “good people.” He ended his comments saying, “Sanctuary city means goodbye to Hyattsville as we know it and have lived it.”
Warner also noted the controversy surrounding the issue.
“I’ve seen and heard threats to the City of Hyattsville and to councilmembers individually,” she said.
During council dialogue, things again turned ugly.
Councilmember Patrick Paschall (Ward 3), who proposed the ordinance, said he is “so incredibly proud of our city today.”
But he tempered his praise with some harsh criticism for two of his colleagues and for the process that led to the ordinance’s passage.
“Seeing the crowd in the room, and hearing their chants outside the room is heartening and a shining light after what’s been a terrible process, a process that I have been flabbergasted by, at many points, with rhetoric and vitriol directed toward immigrants. I’ve been bothered by the misunderstanding of what this legislation will do, because it’s been discussed many, many times. And baffled by the racism. It’s been offensive and disgusting conduct that is unbecoming of residents in our community, and especially unbecoming of councilmembers. And the consistent disrespect for colleagues is appalling. Name-calling, curse words being directed at councilmembers and at residents, race-based generalizations, countless offensive remarks being made in private; if our laws would allow it, I would call for the removal of councilmembers Frazier and Perry because of their absolutely despicable behavior over the last two years as we’ve dealt with both sanctuary city legislation and noncitizen voting legislation.
“I believe that Hyattsville can and should be quite proud of the accomplishments that we have achieved today,” Paschall said.
Perry responded, saying: “Your opinion is your opinion and that’s OK.” In a phone call Wednesday, she added, “This is typical of Patrick’s bullying. He has bullied Ms. Frazier and I for the last four years. … Frankly, I’m glad he is not running again.”
Councilmember Edouard Haba (Ward 4) pointed out the “double standard” of Paschall’s accusations. “You mention how disappointed you are with the way Ms. Perry and Ms. Frazier voted. That is your right. But using that and having a double standard while you are disappointed on the language they may have used in characterizing the piece of legislation we just passed tonight, you are also using that kind of language towards them. … You need to find a way to work with people peacefully without necessarily hurting people along the way.”
Sandino, though, was all smiles. “This is a policy that uplifts and praises the unity of families, regardless of their immigration statuses. We praise the leadership of the legislators on this important issue for our communities, in face of the attacks that are coming from President Trump and his administration.”
Looking to the future, Sandino said: “What this legislation means is that our immigrant community can rest assured that local police officers will continue serving all residents and prioritizing building trust by not collaborating with ICE. I’m a CASA Lead Organizer but also a Ward 5 resident. My family and I made Hyattsville our home 12 years ago, and passing this legislation continues making me proud of being a city resident.
“We are all Hyattsville,” Sandino said. “¡Todos Somos Hyattsville!”