On Oct. 28, the city council of Takoma Park declared itself a Sanctuary City by nearly a unanimous vote, save one abstention. The resolution states:
*That the City of Takoma Park hereby declares itself a City of Refuge for Salvadorans and Guatemalans fleeing persecution, war and atrocities in their respective countries, and welcomes them to the City; and
*That the City of Takoma Park condemns the unjust expulsions of Salvadorans and Guatemalans to their countries at this time by the federal government.
Mayor Sam Abbott hailed the action as symbolic of the concern that the people of Takoma Park have for Central American refugees, who have been forced to flee their homelands because of gross violations of human rights. There are an estimated 65,000 Salvadoran refugees alone in the Washington area.
The process through which the city council and Takoma Park residents went in reaching this decision was unique even when compared with the similar decisions taken by other cities around the country: Berkley, Calif.; Cambridge, Mass.; Madison, Wis.; St. Paul, Minn.; Ithaca, N.Y., and San Jose, Calif. First, as requested by Mayor Abbott and the city council, a public information meeting was held in August, at which time the issue of these refugees and the implications of sanctuary were discussed and debated. Second, the resolution and ordinance concerning Takoma Park as a Sanctuary City represent the most carefully detailed and legally constructed of all previous city documents of this kind. Third, the issue of the impact of the ordinance on city officials was fully and publicly discussed with the police and lawyers serving Takoma Park.
A number of interested citizens, as well as newspaper reporters, have asked: But does this decision really make any difference for the refugees residing in Takoma Park? The answer is clearly "yes." Primarily, such a move will alleviate their fears. While there have been no reports that Takoma Park police have harassed refugees or collaborated with the federal authorities in civil arrests, their life of fear in El Salvador and Guatemala and their fear of arrest by INS officials in this country produce a state of constant uncertainty. Now, with the passage of this resolution and ordinance, these refugees can breathe easier when they see a police car or a Takoma Park police officer, knowing they will not be picked up and turned over to the INS. Only in cases of criminal activity would the police become involved, since the apprehension of so-called "undocumented" persons is strictly an INS responsibility.
But Takoma Park's declaration goes beyond merely guaranteeing the civil liberties of these refugees; it represents a people-to-people concern that is not limited to ourselves. This resolution recognizes the rights and dignity and fair treatment of peoples from other lands and political systems as well. In this spirit, the city council has signaled its belief that the Refugee Act of 1980 should be applied in the case of Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees in terms of their right to apply for political asylum in this country. Furthermore, this resolution says to other cities in the United States and to the American people in general that those principles of human rights and the right to refuge from persecution, which are an integral part of our American heritage, will be put into practice in Takoma Park.
In taking this action, the citizens of this city have proved that Americans still care and will continue to resist oppression and injustice in other parts of the world, whether it be in Central America, South Africa, the Philippines, Chile, Haiti or wherever.