Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison meets with the immigrant community in East Baltimore to discuss a formal policy at the department that prohibits officers from aiding in civil immigration investigations alongside ICE. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Baltimore’s mayor and police commissioner declared their support for the city’s immigrant population Tuesday as they introduced a police department policy that prohibits officers from aiding federal immigration officials in civil investigations.
At the Southeast Anchor Library in Highlandtown, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in no uncertain terms the city has no plans to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Young also took aim at President Donald Trump, saying that mass deportations “cost us valuable resources” at the expense of the city’s relationship with its immigrant community.
“Regardless of the position of our federal government, we are going to continue to stand by our decision to be an inclusive, fair and welcoming city,” he said.
While the new policy still allows for some communication with ICE — such as supporting the agency when executing criminal warrants or court orders — Harrison said the department will not engage in any civil immigration enforcement.
“Only the application of criminal law is what we’re dealing with,” Harrison said.
According to a copy of the policy handed out Tuesday, officers “are not permitted to accept requests by ICE or other agencies to support or assist in civil immigration enforcement operations.”
The policy also requires officers to report those requests to their supervisor, who will then decline the request on their behalf.
Officials with the immigrant rights organization CASA discussed the policy with Harrison before it was drafted and many members of the organization later posed for a photo with the police commissioner.
Elizabeth Alex, CASA’s organizing director, said the policy is largely in line with the requests the organization made of the department.
“We needed an additional policy with very clear guidance, training and accountability for officers so that the policy isn’t just a policy on paper but being followed on the ground,” she said. “And that’s what we saw here today.”
She added that she hopes it’ll spark discussion inside Maryland’s General Assembly to introduce legislation to adopt similar policies on a statewide level.
Tuesday’s meeting was also part of an effort to address what some law enforcement officials call the “chilling effect” — or a reluctance for undocumented immigrants to provide information to police in fear of being deported.
Some law enforcement officials have said the Trump administration’s rhetoric regarding undocumented immigrants has hampered criminal investigations as witnesses avoid speaking to the police for fear of deportation.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
Several members of the community asked Harrison questions about the department’s commitment to the policy.
In one exchange when Harrison was asked whether the department was committed to using de-escalation tactics with the city’s immigrant community to improve relations, the commissioner said “reform and transformation is exactly why I’m here.”
Jesus Perez, a Mexican immigrant who came to Baltimore with his parents 20 years ago and is an advocate with CASA, said it was important for the organization to work alongside Baltimore police to combat fears within the immigrant communities. He singled out Trump for creating a tense atmosphere regarding immigration.
“Under this administration, every time he speaks or says something, that creates a fear and that comes back home to us in Baltimore,” Perez said.
“We may not be able to do it nationwide, but here in Baltimore, we’ll try our best to try to make our communities feel safe.”