Mount Rainier Council To Vote On Becoming "Sanctuary" City

Mount Rainier Council to Vote On Becoming 'Sanctuary' City

By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2008; Page C04

The tiny city of Mount Rainier is considering whether to declare itself a sanctuary for illegal immigrants, entering a regional and national debate over enforcement of immigration law.

If the City Council approves the proposal, the eclectic city of 9,000 in Prince George's County will join nearby Takoma Park in prohibiting police officers and city workers from checking the immigration status of residents or reporting those who lack legal residency documents to federal immigration authorities. Takoma Park has been a “sanctuary” city since 1985.

Mount Rainier City Council member Pedro Briones, who proposed the measure, said his intent is not to protect criminals but to allow all immigrants access to community services “so long as they are contributing residents of Mount Rainier and follow our city rules and regulations.”

Briones added: “Until we have more effective national immigration policies, there's no reason why hardworking immigrants who may be undocumented should live in fear that their local police, code enforcement officer or sanitation worker is going to turn them over for possible deportation.”

The five-member, nonpartisan council is expected to vote on the measure after a Feb. 12 public hearing. One other council member has endorsed the measure, and another was said to be leaning in favor. But the city, like the Washington region, appears split on the issue.

Last year, Prince William County supervisors approved a resolution meant to deny illegal immigrants certain public services and increase immigration enforcement by local police. Loudoun County supervisors also approved a measure to restrict access to public services for illegal immigrants, although a new majority on the Loudoun board recently distanced itself from that policy.

In Arlington County, supervisors voiced sympathy for illegal immigrants displaced from other communities but declined to pass legislation that would offer them sanctuary. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has said the county should not be in the business of enforcing immigration issues but has gone no further. Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold (R) has issued an executive order declaring that the county will sever contracts with businesses caught employing illegal immigrants.

Mount Rainier is known as a funky, left-leaning community. The city has a cooperative swimming pool, vegetarian food store, cooperative bicycle shop and community tool shed for residents to borrow lawn mowers and chain saws. Signs calling for the repeal of Maryland's death penalty and the impeachment of President Bush dot many residential lawns like colorful flags at a political convention.

Census data show that almost 28 percent of residents are foreign-born, compared with about 11 percent nationally. Nearly 30 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home, almost double the national average.

A Mount Rainier e-mail group list has been flooded with postings on the sanctuary proposal. Council members expect a large turnout at the hearing.

Sandra Joseph, an administrative secretary who has lived in the city for 20 years, said she opposes the measure.

“While I feel for people wanting to better their lives, coming here illegally and getting the benefits just isn't right,” she said. “We just don't have the resources for something like that.”