The Hyattsville City Council defiantly voted Monday night to declare itself an official “sanctuary city,” backing a bill that would prohibit its small local police force from enforcing federal immigration law.
The preliminary 8-2 vote — which must be confirmed in two weeks — could make the Maryland suburb a target for the Trump administration, which has promised to withhold federal dollars from sanctuary jurisdictions and says such policies undermine public safety.
Council member Patrick Paschall, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the legislation codified the city’s existing practice of “non-intervention” in federal immigration matters. The ordinance’s authors said they explicitly used the word “sanctuary” — a loose term that means different things in different places — to make clear to immigrant residents that they do not have to fear local police.
“There is no federal law that requires municipalities to participate in immigration enforcement,” Paschall said.
Hyattsville would be the second official “sanctuary city” in Maryland and the first in Prince George’s County. Takoma Park, in neighboring Montgomery County, has provided official sanctuary to undocumented immigrants for more than three decades.
The sanctuary issue has triggered a delicate dance of sorts in many larger jurisdictions, including Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Virginia’s Fairfax County, which have struggled to declare themselves immigrant friendly but also willing to comply with federal immigration agents in cases of serious crime or when agents have a criminal warrant.
Both President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have threatened to deny funding to sanctuary jurisdictions, but neither has given details of which localities would be targeted.
Council member Paula Perry, who voted against the ordinance, said she feared the city was giving its undocumented residents “a false sense of security” because the protections only go as far as city limits.
“It doesn’t protect them from the county, the state or the federal,” said Perry, who was joined by Ruth Ann Frazier in opposing the bill. “I want people to be well aware of that.”
In Annapolis, state lawmakers are doing battle over the Maryland Trust Act, a bill that strictly limits police involvement in immigration issues and requires a warrant for cooperation with federal immigration authorities — again, echoing what is already done in many jurisdictions.
The bill passed the House of Delegates by a wide margin but has run into trouble in the Senate. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has vowed to veto the bill should it come to his desk.
In addition to Hyattsville, which also permits non-citizens to vote in city elections, at least three other Prince George’s municipalities — Mount Rainier, College Park and Greenbelt — are considering sanctuary legislation.
Greenbelt received a petition calling for a sanctuary measure. But Mayor Emmett Jordan said officials are reluctant to move ahead of the state at “the risk of losing federal funding.”
That’s a worry that doesn’t concern Hyattsville, Paschall said, explaining that the city receives, on average, about $22,000 in federal funding a year — less than a tenth of a percent of the city’s $16 million annual budget.
Mayor Candace Hollingsworth called Monday night’s vote “a display of courage” for a city whose population is about one-third foreign born. “It’s important to not wait for others to take the first step,” she said.
The hours-long meeting include testimony from people on both sides of the issue.
Leigh Ann Barlow, a longtime Hyattsville resident, told the council she opposed the ordinance because it could jeopardize future grant funding and would hamper law enforcers from doing their jobs.
“I don’t want anybody to be torn apart from their families,” Barlow said. “But the law is the law. So, think hard.”
Candida Garcia, a 12-year resident and PTA president at her children’s school, said the ordinance will allow her and other immigrants in the country illegally to shop, take their kids to school and attend religious services without fear.
“My children worry every time I leave through the front door. This law will help them feel more safe,” said Garcia, who has also testified for the Maryland Trust Act. “It’s a model for other communities so they too can take action.”