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Baltimore's top officer tells immigrant community not to fear police

Baltimore's top cop tells Hispanic community, 'We don't care about your immigration status.'

After a series of executive actions by President Donald Trump that he said were aimed at securing the nation's borders, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis assured members of the local immigrant community that no member of his force would ask them for proof of citizenship.

About 200 people came Friday evening to a forum at Patterson High School in the heart of the East Baltimore Hispanic community to hear from the city's top officer about what to expect. Many in the audience expressed fears about being stopped or even calling police if they were the victim of a crime.

"We're your Baltimore police department and we don't care about your immigration status, we will not check your immigration status and we do not have a database to check your immigration status," said Davis, whose remarks were translated into Spanish.

Davis told the crowd to call 911 if they needed the police, and to call a special phone line set up by Maryland's attorney general, Brian Frosh, to report hate crimes. That number is 866-481-8361.

That was reassuring to Abraham Tema, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, who said he considers Baltimore his home now. He wants other members of his community to feel safe and not fear police – as he said he once did several years ago.

Tema told the audience that he was robbed but did not report the crime because he was afraid of what would happen to him.

"We need to call the police so they help us," he said. "But by calling the police we need to make sure we do not put ourselves at risk."

Others at the forum, including two city councilmen and a representative from Mayor Catherine Pugh's office, also sought to reassure the community that they were on their side.

Pugh has continued the approach of her predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who signed an executive order telling city police not to ask people about their immigration status. Pugh has called Baltimore a "welcoming" city.

Officials do not consider Baltimore a "sanctuary" city because it does not run its own jail and can't make decisions about whether to hold people charged with a crime. The state controls the jails and officials there have said they would comply with directives to provide information if requested by federal officials.

One of Trump's executive orders in his first weeks as president would strip federal funding from jurisdictions that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants and do not comply with federal directives.

Elizabeth Alex, regional director for the immigrant advocate group CASA Baltimore, which sponsored Friday's forum, said the state General Assembly needs to pass legislation to provide further safeguards.

She said the group decided to hold the forum because of the fear caused by the executive order on sanctuary cities -- as well as one directing a wall be built on the Mexican border and a third temporarily banning immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

Others in the audience came to get information to pass on to others who did not attend. Alfredo Santiago, a social worker in a Highlandtown community health center frequented by immigrants, said he was hearing a lot about Trump's orders from patients.

"There is a lot of anxiety," he said. "I wanted to understand and be able to respond to them and to my coworkers. I love this community and they are developing mental and physical health issues from this."

Nara Naranjit, a 29-year-old Charles Village resident, said she didn't come to the forum to represent anyone specifically. She said Trump's actions had sparked her to get involved.

"The women's march was my first march and this is my first event that I've attended that is not related to something that directly affects me," she said. "I just think we all need to stick together. ...I'm multi-racial, but 100 percent American."

Councilmen Brandon Scott and Zeke Cohen expressed similar sentiments. Cohen told the crowd about how his Eastern European great grandmother narrowly escaped the Holocaust and immigrated to Brooklyn with coins sewn into her clothes.

"I would not be sitting here if not for that action," Cohen said. "With every ounce of our being, if they come for this community, we will fight back."

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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