ROCKVILLE – Local police created a barrier between protest groups outside the Montgomery County Council Building on Sept. 13 during a rally held by a group that calls itself the Concerned Citizens Coalition of Montgomery County.
The demonstration, which drew hundreds of protesters, was meant to show support for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and “the rule of law,” according to the Concerned Citizens Coalition of Montgomery County.
“Protect American families and children and put sanctuary anarchists in Montgomery County on notice! Bring American flags, signs,” they wrote on the Facebook Event. They also used the hashtag #StandWithICE on social media.
The gathering also brought hundreds of counterprotestors, who demonstrated with signs and noisemakers across the street. Police set up fencing that ran down the middle of Maryland Avenue to keep the two rallies separate from one another. Officers were also stationed on either side of the barrier to prevent demonstrators from crossing the street.
Even with the heavy police presence, however, protesters shouted at one another and tried to drown out speakers by chanting.
June Wirtz attended the #StandWithICE rally and explained that she wanted to show support for ICE and legal immigration.
“My major concerns are the crime that’s rising (here) and the lack of ability for police officers to do their job and control that crime. I have three young grandchildren, and I’m concerned for their safety and that they will not grow up in a safe community,” Wirtz said. “Law enforcement needs to be able to cooperate with ICE so that they can all do their jobs in harmony and get those violent criminals off the streets.”
According to the Pew Research Center and the Marshall Project, crime rates have dropped in the past 20 years or so, regardless of the number of immigrants in the United States.
Montgomery County has been in the spotlight since County Executive Marc Elrich signed an executive order banning local departments from cooperating with ICE.
“As a matter of policy, we do not inquire about anyone’s immigration status to support immigration enforcement, nor do we conduct immigration raids or investigations. It’s also important to know that the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation does not accept individuals into custody from ICE, and it does not detain individuals beyond their release date,” he said.
Since then, there have been multiple high-profile cases of undocumented immigrants arrested on sex charges in the county.
Many of the protesters on the #StandWithICE side of the demonstration held signs noting their concern over the county protecting undocumented immigrants even when they have committed violent crimes.
According to a recent statement by the Montgomery County Council, the perpetrators of those rapes are currently going through the legal process and “will receive their judgment in court.”
Sarah Smith and Tommy Zwirecki explained that they attended the #StandWithICE rally because they were offended by that same statement made by the county council. Further, in the declaration, the council notes misinformation spread by the White House and local news outlets.
“There has been a lot (of) inaccurate information spread by the White House, President Trump, Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli, local and national conservative news outlets and neo-Nazi sympathizers regarding our criminal justice system and its process,” they wrote in the statement. “These individuals and organizations should be ashamed for spreading false information seeking to establish a baseless, illogical and xenophobic connection between a person’s failure to obtain legal status and their propensity to commit a sex crime.”
“I don’t like being called a neo-Nazi sympathizer,” Zwirecki said. “I’ve lived in Montgomery County almost my entire life, and Montgomery County used to be one of the richest counties in the whole United States. Once these democrats and these progressive socialists started to get in charge and started making these stupid policies, we have sanctuary counties; we have no money, our roads suck, our school systems are (bad). It’s completely falling apart.”
Guila Franklin Siegel, who serves as the associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said that her organization was approached by other local faith-based organizations to help promote the counterprotest.
“We worked in coalition over the last 72 hours to focus on getting the word out to other faith communities through social media and getting as many co-sponsors as possible, working with law enforcement to ensure that this would be a safe, positive way for us to express our beliefs in contrast to these voices of hate,” she said.
Siegel explained that the policies put forth by the county council are enhancing public safety, as opposed to making life more dangerous for residents of the county.
“Our safety as a community is shattered when people are afraid to call the police, when people are afraid to take their kids to school, when people are afraid to go to the hospital to get medical care, and demonizing immigrants and terrorizing the community is not a measure of public safety; that is hatred,” she said.
Jim Reschovsky explained that he attended the counter protest across the street because he and his wife have been very distressed by the anti-immigrant rhetoric by President Donald Trump and his supporters.
“This country was built on immigrants,” he said. “I think there is this narrative that most notably has been put forward by our president that immigrants are rapists and criminals and drug dealers when the reality is that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes in this country than American-born citizens are. So, it’s too easy to take an isolated case and try to generalize it to an entire group of people. It’s just wrong.”
County Councilmembers Tom Hucker, Will Jawando and Gabe Albornoz, along with Elrich, all attended the counterprotest.
“The policy we have on immigration is not only because we’re a welcoming community or because we celebrate diversity; it is because it enhances our public safety and it keeps us safe,” Hucker said.
He explained that immigrants are often the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators and are fearful of coming forward.
“We’re all against crime; we need all hands on deck to fight it, and that’s why we have the policy that we have and that’s why it’s supported by all our top law enforcement officials. And it is successful because we have some of the lowest crime rates in the state,” Hucker said.
Albornoz noted similar crime rates between jurisdictions in the county.
He explained that the policies that Montgomery County has put in place have been successful in keeping residents safe. Albornoz also noted that there has been misleading information circulating at the local level as well, leading residents to feel upset with the county’s policies on immigration.
“We understand that there is confusion (over the policy), and people are concerned, but part of the reason for their concern is the spread of misinformation regarding the policy. So, we need to do a better job of communicating what it in fact is and what it in fact does,” Albornoz said.