Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young signed an executive order Wednesday directing city agencies to protect immigrants and approved new funding for lawyers to represent residents facing deportation.
The Democratic mayor took the steps after immigrant communities have faced the prospect in recent weeks of federal raids promised by Republican President Donald Trump.
“As a Welcoming City, we firmly believe in respecting the rights and dignity of New Americans," Young said in a statement. "As such, we would like to ensure that the newest members of our community are extended the same rights and protections the rest of our residents and visitors enjoy.”
The mayor’s office said the order is designed to encourage immigrants who are the victims of crime or witnesses to feel comfortable dealing with the police. It builds on a policy Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison set out last month, prohibiting city officers from telling immigration agents where people they’re looking for are.
Harrison said in a statement that he supported Young’s order and that it would remain the police department’s policy not to inquire about people’s immigration status.
“Public safety demands that all members of the community trust law enforcement officers and feel comfortable and safe when they report crimes,” Harrison said.
City Solicitor Andre Davis said the order affirms and clarifies existing policies.
He said officials are also working on a second order that would ensure people can deal with the city government in a language they know.
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Also Wednesday, the mayor and the rest of the city’s spending board approved $150,000 for lawyers to represent city residents facing deportation. The city launched the program last year in a partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based nonprofit organization, and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, a legal services group.
The total funding for the coming year for the Baltimore program represents a cut of $50,000. Last year, Vera provided $100,000 to match a $100,000 contribution by the city; that money is no longer available. Catalina Rodriguez-Lima, the director of the mayor’s immigrant relations office, said the new figure was developed based on an assessment of last year’s caseload.
When Baltimore was said to be among 10 cities U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeted last month for roundups, the immigrant relations office reminded people who could be taken into custody of the ability to get a lawyer through the city fund.
Prince George’s County is also part of the Vera program, along with 10 other jurisdictions across the country. The Prince George’s County Council voted in May to increase its funding for the program from $200,000 to $300,000.
The Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition said in its annual report for 2018 that it represented 20 detained people from Prince George’s and 19 from the city of Baltimore that year. The organization says its ultimate goal is to provide a lawyer for every detained immigrants who could not otherwise afford an attorney.
Gustavo Torres, the executive director of CASA de Maryland, an immigrants’ rights group, said the policies enacted in Baltimore ought to be a model for other parts of the state.
“As our communities continue to face attacks at the national level, Mayor Young has once again stepped up to ensure that immigrants are welcome in our city,” Torres said in a statement.