GAITHERSBURG — At its monthly meeting, the Gaithersburg City Council adopted a “Resolution of the Mayor and City Council Reaffirming the City’s Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, Freedom and Justice, and Denouncing Anti-Immigrant Speech, Hate Crimes, and Harassment.” Council Vice President Ryan Spiegel introduced the resolution, which staff had begun drafting some weeks before, during the […]
GAITHERSBURG — At its monthly meeting, the Gaithersburg City Council adopted a “Resolution of the Mayor and City Council Reaffirming the City’s Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, Freedom and Justice, and Denouncing Anti-Immigrant Speech, Hate Crimes, and Harassment.”
Council Vice President Ryan Spiegel introduced the resolution, which staff had begun drafting some weeks before, during the “From the Mayor and Council” portion of the meeting. He said that recent events had made it imperative to clarify the city’s position on the issues addressed by the resolution.
“It’s been a whole year, almost to the day, since our last formal resolution on this issue,” Spiegel said. “I’m saddened to see that despite the passage of a year, another resolution is unfortunately very much warranted … It’s been almost two months since flyers recruiting for the Ku Klux Klan were distributed in parts of our city, more than a month since immigrant rights advocates and DREAMers last came to City Hall and testified, and months since young children were torn apart from their parents by federal immigration authorities. In the wake of these and other events, which demand an immediate response, including the white nationalist rally in D.C. last weekend and yet more striking comments from certain federal officials in recent days, we cannot delay in speaking out.”
Spiegel said that because the Council would not meet again for over two weeks, delaying passage of the resolution would render it “[m]ore stale and less relevant.”
The resolution states, in part:
“WHEREAS, the City of Gaithersburg continues to work to ensure our services and programs are accessible and open to all individuals, groups and organizations and to build on the atmosphere of trust among City officials and employees and the community that makes Gaithersburg a thriving, welcoming community; and WHEREAS, while speech is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution, the City of Gaithersburg will condemn words, actions, literature or gatherings that promote hate, bigotry and distrust, that diminish individuals or groups or faiths, or that are intended to discriminate, intimidate or threaten the peace, welfare and security of our residents and undermine the quality of life in our city; and WHEREAS, while the City of Gaithersburg has no authority to limit the activities of Federal, State, or County officers with respect to immigration enforcement within the City’s borders, the City supports policies and practices that enhance the safety and security of our residents and neighborhoods, including Gaithersburg Police Department General Order 628.1 that directs that Gaithersburg Police Officers will not investigate or make an inquiry relative to the immigration status of individuals, and will not notify US. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding the immigration status of an individual, and, as such, all residents should feel free to contact the Gaithersburg Police Department on any matters of concern; and WHEREAS, the City of Gaithersburg wishes to reaffirm its commitment to diversity, inclusion, freedom and justice as stated in Resolution R-45-17, state its commitment to community safety and trust, and denounce anti-immigrant speech, hate crimes and harassment. NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the Mayor and City Council of Gaithersburg, Maryland, in public meeting assembled, that the City hereby reaffirms its commitment to the values of equity, fairness, inclusion, trust and justice, and further states:
“That the City of Gaithersburg will continue to provide its services and opportunities to all people, regardless of their faith, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender preference, disability or immigration status and will continue to be an inclusive community where all people are treated with respect.
“That unless required by Federal, State, or local law or judicial decision, no City official or employee will request, investigate or assist in the investigation of the citizenship or immigration status of any person.
“That unless required by Federal, State or local law or judicial decision, no member of the Gaithersburg Police Department is authorized to enforce Federal immigration laws or inquire about immigration or citizenship status or place of birth of an arrestee or victim of a crime.
“That no City official or employee acting in their official capacity with the City, may coerce a person based upon their actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status or communicate a threat to deport a person under circumstances that reasonably tend to intimidate or produce a fear that the threat will be carried out.
“That the City of Gaithersburg will continue to reject bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in any form.
“That the City of Gaithersburg will continue to denounce hate speech, hate crimes and harassment and will use all means within its authority to respond to and address this conduct.”
Spiegel and Council Members Michael Sesma and Robert Wu passed the resolution 3-0. Council members Neil Harris and Laurie-Anne Sayles were not present.
“The resolution we passed last Monday doesn’t actually reflect a change in policy or attitude or values in our City,” said Mayor Jud Ashman. “We’re one of the most diverse cities in America. We’re proud of that. We feel responsible to our residents. So, since many of us have been in leadership positions in Gaithersburg, this City has always been welcoming, committed to diversity and civility and to promoting good character and being good neighbors.”
“The fact is, every so often things happen that cause us to look inward and reiterate the values of our community,” Ashman said. “A couple months ago there were two instances of hate groups dropping flyers off to homes in our City. While they have the First Amendment right to spread their message, we also have the right to condemn that message and remind people what this community stands for.”
“And then we had this minor outcry from immigrants in and around our community, who maybe hadn’t been paying much attention to the City over the years, and wanted to know where Gaithersburg stands and that they are valued and supported,” Ashman added. “We decided to take the opportunity to restate our commitment to being a welcoming place, a place where people live as neighbors in dignity and harmony.”
Members of United We Dream, an immigrant-advocacy group, have testified on several occasions before Ashman and the Council, asking the city to take action to protect the immigrant community. In July, United We Dream members asked the city to adopt a “Freedom City” ordinance, similar to the one passed in Austin, Texas, which states that police officers who ask about a suspect’s immigration status must also state that that these questions need not be answered. While last week’s resolution did not adopt this measure, many United We Dream members nonetheless viewed it as a welcome response to their concerns.
“I feel overwhelmed and happy knowing that my city is taking actions to ensure that all of its residents can thrive,” said Luz Chavez, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient and Gaithersburg resident who has testified before Ashman and the Council. “Today my city stood on the side of freedom, and I’m grateful for my community members who worked hard to make this happen.”