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Be brave, Howard County: Vote for sanctuary

Howard County Council to consider sanctuary bill. (WJZ)

I have a challenge and request for the Howard County community in which I live — be brave. My students in Baltimore City are, and it's the least you can do for the children here.

While many days can be challenging as a teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools, Nov. 9th, the day after the election, was incomparable. Nothing could have prepared me for the 5th grade student running up the stairs and anxiously asking his friends, "Were you born here?" This question captured the fear our immigrant students felt of being separated from their friends and families — a fear that still permeates our schools today and requires great courage by some of our students.

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A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of watching my 7th and 8th grade students be brave as they saw a man who had risen to power by belittling their right to exist in this country be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. As the inauguration played, I explained that we were watching because the ceremony is never about one man (nor, someday soon, one woman), but the office of the president of the United States itself.

When President Donald Trump took the constitutional oath, he became the office, in addition to the man, with all of its accompanying weight and responsibilities. President Trump cannot just make decisions for one political party or group of people; he must govern in pursuit of benefiting all Americans.

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That peaceful transfer of power, the hallmark of our nation's presidential inauguration, is just one example of true American exceptionalism. Another occurred less than 24 hours later as millions of women and men stood up on behalf of my students, women's rights, black and brown lives, LGBTQIA rights, the environment and countless other ideals in the largest day of protest in our nation's history.

One of the best parts of my job teaching U.S. history is showing my students every day how that same inclination for standing up against unjust tyranny formed these United States of America. Since the earliest days of our country, our rallying cries have been "We, the people" and "All men are created equal."

While we have often failed to live up to those ideals in the treatment of one another, our country's historical arc has ever so slowly inched toward justice.

Howard County has an opportunity to further that effort and set an example for governments across the country by demonstrating how communities, especially ones as privileged as ours, can stand in meaningful solidarity with our most vulnerable neighbors.

A bill before the Howard County Council, set for a vote Monday, would designate the county a "sanctuary county" unwilling to aid federal officials in enforcing immigration laws. Turning this bill into law would send a powerful message that the values of inclusivity and multiculturalism that were part of Columbia's founding 50 years ago extend to the entire county.

During his inaugural address, President Trump expounded the merits of patriotism, a principle foundational to the success of our country. True patriotism involves standing up to tyranny of all forms. Designating Howard County as a sanctuary county shows once and for all that local government cannot and will not be bullied into submission by financial intimidation or unfounded fears.

It is something each jurisdiction should do — including Baltimore, which has thus far only claimed to be a "welcoming" city for immigrants, but not a "sanctuary." In this time of rising nationalism, it is important to remember Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel's wise words: "No human being is 'illegal.' That is a contradiction in terms."

I humbly ask that our Howard County community follow my students' lead and be brave in the face of unjust tyranny against our neighbors. If my students can do it, so can we.

Ross Seidman is from Columbia and teaches in Baltimore City Public Schools. He can be reached at Ross.I.Seidman@gmail.com; Twitter: @riseidman.

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