Mayor: Baltimore is a 'welcoming city' for immigrants and refugees

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reaffirms Baltimore as a "welcoming city" in the wake of the national election. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun video)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reaffirmed Thursday that Baltimore welcomes immigrants and refugees, joining a growing number of mayors across the country who say they are trying to allay fear in those communities after the election of Donald J. Trump as president.

Baltimore's mayor said city police will not check the citizenship status of people with whom they interact. Her administration is publishing a community guide that urges immigrants in capital letters: "Do not panic." And city officials are working to steer immigrants toward legal and other resources offered by nonprofits.


Rawlings-Blake said Trump's election creates "a very scary environment for new Americans."

"The efforts that were touted during the election were not about us being safe," she said. "It was about dividing our country, and that is what we're here to stand up to."


Trump said during the campaign that he would withhold federal funds from cities that have lenient policies for handling illegal immigration. Such places are commonly called "sanctuary cities." Trump's advisers are drafting plans to carry out workplace raids and increase pressure on local police and jails to identify undocumented immigrants.

The president-elect says he wants to deport 2 million to 3 million illegal immigrants that he says are criminals. He also has proposed building a wall along the Mexican border and banning Muslim immigrants from entering the country.

Mayor-elect Catherine E. Pugh, a Democrat who will succeed Rawlings-Blake in December, indicated she would continue the outgoing mayor's policies, including a 2012 executive order that prohibits city police from asking about a person's citizenship status.

Pugh said under her administration, "We will continue to be a welcoming city."


Drawing immigrants to Baltimore is key to Rawlings-Blake's goal of increasing the city's population by 10,000 families over a decade.

She recently promoted a report that found immigrants in Maryland — who make up about 15 percent of the state population — contribute $9 billion in taxes and employ more than 125,000 people at their businesses. The report was produced by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group of mayors and business leaders who support immigration reform. The conclusions are based on U.S. Census data.

Officials said Thursday it was unclear how many immigrants, documented or otherwise, live in Baltimore.

In the days since Trump's election, mayors across the country have avowed positions similar to Rawlings-Blake's. Among them are Democratic mayors in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

Mark J. Shmueli, a Takoma Park immigration lawyer and member of a now-defunct gubernatorial commission that studied the impact of immigrants in Maryland, said the banding together of large-city mayors makes it less likely Trump will strip federal funding.

"The solidarity of the different cities, in my view, would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible," Shmueli said. "Cutting off funding for many of the major cities in the U.S. — New York, Chicago, L.A. — may not be feasible."

According to the city budget, Baltimore is expected to receive more than $216 million in federal grants for operating and capital expenses in the current fiscal year.

Shmueli said the positions advocated by Trump and like-minded members of Congress to penalize cities that don't act aggressively against illegal immigrants leave "a lot of unknowns."

"The rhetoric is out there, but this would be difficult to do," he said.

Cassie Williams, press secretary for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for reducing overall immigration, said Trump has given the cities fair warning. She said mayors of cities like Baltimore are putting salaries of law-abiding government employees on the line.

"It is not only losing out on this money, it is turning these cities into the Wild Wild West," Williams said. "By ignoring the federal law, they are encouraging and they are rewarding law-breaking."

Rawlings-Blake rejected the notion that her position was unlawful.

"When you talk about following law, we are living at a time when the [immigration] laws are broken and everyone — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — recognize that," she said.

The mayor said she considers Baltimore a "welcoming city," not a "sanctuary city."

Although the term "sanctuary city" has no formal definition, it generally refers to a city that provides shelter to immigrants and cooperates to varying degrees with federal law enforcement officials. Rawlings-Blake considers a "welcoming city" one that promotes mutual respect and cooperation and offers inclusive and tolerant communities.

Rawlings-Blake called on other elected officials across Maryland to speak up about welcoming immigrants. She also called on those officials to hold Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and his administration "accountable for how they treat everyone who is here living in Maryland."

A spokesman for Hogan did not respond to a request for comment.

About two dozen people crowded into the mayor's ceremonial room for a news conference Thursday, including volunteers and officials from immigrant rights advocate CASA and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Rawlings-Blake said she wanted to highlight the "richness of cultures here, standing together in solidarity against bigotry, against hate, against this notion that it is 'us against them.'"

Advocates said they have received reports that show an uptick in slurs and hate-related actions against immigrants in Maryland during the past week. Examples include school students being bullied or beaten up, said Elizabeth Alex, regional director of CASA Baltimore.

The guide produced by the mayor's office includes a description of due process, information on how to report a hate crime and contact information for organizations that provide support.

"We're hearing reports of young children coming home in tears from other students telling them they can't come to school anymore — 'Go back to Mexico,'" Alex said. "High school students are being beaten up because of how they look.

"This type of national rhetoric that's been flying around the TV channels is not what we're about here in Baltimore City. We take it seriously when people are victimized."

ZainabChaudry, outreach manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Maryland, said her group has been "inundated with voicemails, emails, people who want to stand in solidarity" after the election. The mayor's reaffirmation Thursday helps, she said.

"In this political climate, where there is so much uncertainty and anxiety, these words are reassuring," Chaudry said. "We're hopeful it will help calm some of the fears."

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this article.



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