Hyattsville’s sanctuary city status could have immediate impact on Latino community

By Joe Catapano

An 8-2 vote established Hyattsville, Maryland, as the second sanctuary city in the state April 17 — a decision that could bring immediate changes to the Latino community and its participation in local activities.

The legislation prohibits local police from inquiring  about a person’s immigration status, reporting a person’s status to federal authorities or using federal databases to determine whether a person is documented or not. The law, which was first introduced in January, will go into effect May 7.

Ramon Palencia, the Latino Outreach Director for the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, works with parents and students at Hyattsville schools to help form relationships between Latino organizations and the community. He’s noticed an increased fear among Latino residents since the 2016 presidential election.

“I’ve seen this climate of the new presidency and I see a lot of parents that are frightened,” Palencia said. “They were leaders before and now they’re afraid to go out into the community.”

Palencia lives four miles from Hyattsville in Takoma Park, Maryland, which became the state’s first sanctuary city in 1985. Its current mayor, Kate Stewart, said sanctuary cities provide comfortable places for Latinos.

“I think to make sure that residents feel welcome not only in Takoma Park but in Hyattsville and our entire region is very important,” she said.

Takoma Park experienced demographic changes in the years after becoming a sanctuary city, which could foreshadow what’s to come in Hyattsville, Stewart said.

The year Takoma Park became a sanctuary city, the Latino population was about 1,000 people, census data shows. By 2000, the population rose to 2,500 residents. Hyattsville’s Latino community has already more than doubled since the beginning of the century and will likely continue to grow.

Hyattsville Ward Four representative Paula Perry, one of two council members who opposed the legislation, said the city is “not prepared” for the potential population growth due to its new status.

“I expect an overflow of people trying to move here,” she said. “And I don’t think the council considered what could happen when they voted for this.”

While Perry has been openly against  the legislation since it was introduced, members of the Latino community — like Palencia — hope the opposition will be open to change once the law goes into effect.

“I would ask them to go out and meet those immigrants that are here that are law-abiding citizens,” he said. “They bring a lot of goodness to this community, so go out and talk to them so you can understand what they’re going through.”

Although becoming a sanctuary city doesn’t stop federal immigration agents from deporting undocumented citizens within city lines, Palencia hopes the decision will allow the Latino community to “sleep better at night,” like he does as a Spanish immigrant living in Takoma Park.

“I think this will reassure them that there are a lot people in the community that care about them, that are very worried about them and want them to participate and be full members of this community,” he said.

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.

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