GAITHERSBURG – City council member Ryan Spiegel wanted to make one thing clear Tuesday night –the city does not participate in enforcing immigration law.
After a surge in deportations by federal immigration officials across the country, Spiegel along with other members of the Gaithersburg City Council said at Tuesday night’s Council meeting that the city does not assist federal immigration officials in deportations.
“Our city police officers do not make inquires relative to immigration status during routine actions,” Spiegel said.
Spiegel responded to comments made by Gaithersburg resident Doug Hill, who urged the city to declare itself a sanctuary city, a general term for jurisdictions where local officials do not assist in enforcement of immigration law. Spiegel said he does not think it is a good idea for the city to call itself a sanctuary city given there is no universal definition for the term.
“The phrase sanctuary city is a politically-loaded phrase as we all know,” Spiegel said. ”I think that regardless of whether or not that label is applied to a particular municipal or county or state entity, the more important question is what is the culture?”
In January, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order that instructs federal immigration officials to deport immigrants who are in the country illegally and to defund “sanctuary jurisdiction.”
Spiegel said Gaithersburg’s policy is to not ask people who are stopped by the police their immigration status and they do not give immigration information to federal agencies unless the person committed a serious felony.
“There is a specific instance where a violent felon may be arrested for committing a violent crime and later, after their fingerprints are run through the system, federal authorities may reach out to local authorities,” Spiegel said.
Council Vice President Neil Harris, echoed Spiegel’s comments saying that Gaithersburg Police’s policy to not ask about immigration status of people they stop, helps them keep trust with community members.
“I think the most important to remember is that the reason that most municipal police forces in the United States have the same protocol, because they understand in order to have a safe community you need to have the cooperation of everybody in the community,” Harris said.
Harris and Spiegel were responding to a suggestion made by Gaithersburg resident Doug Hill, who during the city council meeting’s public comment portion, asked the City to declare it a sanctuary city.
While Spiegel balked at the suggestion, Hill said it would bring a positive distinction to the City as a safe haven.
“The marketing of that idea is easier if you have catchy terms that people can relate to,” Hill said. “Clearly sanctuary city says one thing to one person and another thing to another and if there’s another designation (with) less political elements to it, I’m all for it.”
Spiegel also dispelled rumors of raids by federal immigration officials to deport undocumented immigrants in the City. During his last new conference, County Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) took time during his weekly press conference to say that no immigrations raids had taken place in the County despite rumors on social media.
“We all need to be careful with respect to social media,” Berliner said. “We had experienced rumors that there were raids taking place in Wheaton that were unfounded, that consumed our police and our community and just created a fair degree of panic.”