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Statement in support of Hyattsville becoming a sanctuary city

March 1, 2017, 7:30pm

City Council hearing on proposed sanctuary city bill

Hyattsville Municipal Building, 4310 Gallatin Street


Good evening, Mayor Hollingsworth and members of the City Council.

My name is Shannon Wyss, and i live at [redacted].  As a US citizen, i would like to speak strongly in favor of Hyattsville becoming a sanctuary city.

I won’t rehash arguments i’ve made for this bill in other venues; no one wants to hear something again for the third or fourth time!  What i will say here is that i do not believe it’s the job of Hyattsville police officers to do the work of ICE.  I’m sure the folks in HPD have plenty of other things to focus on without taking on the additional task of immigration enforcement.

I’m grateful that our police officers don’t ask anyone about citizenship status, nationality, or religion.  I hope this practice can be enshrined into city law so that it remains HPD policy in the future.

To those in this chamber who are opposed to this proposal, i want to assure you that, if other municipalities’ experiences are any guide, this change would not make Hyattsville a magnet for undocumented immigrants or Muslims (although i honestly don’t see why that would be a problem).

I also want to caution us against making generalizations that all – or even many – undocumented immigrants are criminals who don’t contribute to our community and that all of the undocumented folks in Hyattsville are Latinx.  Most undocumented people in the US have overstayed their visas, fewer of them commit crimes than citizens, they come from a variety of countries, they are our taxpaying neighbors, and many have partners or children who are citizens from whom they would be torn away if they were deported.

But regardless of where they came from or how they got here, folks without papers deserve all the dignity and respect that we give both to those who immigrated legally and to citizens.  That includes not being terrified of deportation should they run a stop sign on Hamilton Street or be caught smoking pot on Route 1.

I want all of my neighbors to feel safe in our wonderful city.  So i strongly urge members of the Council and the Mayor to support the proposed sanctuary city legislation.

Thank you for your time.

Hyattsville Should Protect Muslims

[Slightly edited version published in the January 2017 Hyattsville Life & Times.]

[The differing statistics used in the piece below and in the one here speak to the difficulty of knowing the full extent of the very secretive NSEERS system.]

Many groups are working to fight the incoming Trump administration, including some of us here in Hyattsville.

Ward 3 councilmember Patrick Paschall will introduce a bill this month to make Hyattsville a sanctuary city – a place where the police don’t ask about immigration status and where the city won’t assist the federal government in the deportation of undocumented immigrants. These proposals are critical in our new political climate.

I hope, however, the city council would support an additional statement in this bill: that Hyattsville welcomes Muslims and will not aid in the (re)creation of a Muslim/Arab registry.

One of Donald Trump’s most terrifying plans is to revive just such a registry. While the details aren’t clear, it would certainly include some subset of Muslims and Arabs registering their names, addresses, workplaces, and activities with the federal government so they can be surveilled for anything that might be construed as “terrorism.”

Unfortunately, this idea is hardly new. George W. Bush created such a registry after September 11th: the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). From 2002-2011, over 100,000 Muslim and Arab teen boys and men had to register their whereabouts with the federal government. They had their photos taken; they were fingerprinted and interrogated. Included in those registering were non-citizen high school and college students, tourists, and non-citizens with jobs here.

While NSEERS was in effect, 14,000 Muslim and Arab men and boys were deported. Many of those who registered were held in captivity in the US for months, often with no outside contact. Families were torn apart. Communities were irreparably changed. And yet no registered individual was ever found guilty of terrorism.

Unfortunately, both NSEERS and Trump’s blatant Islamophobia have created an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate crimes, incidents that have recently included tearing off women’s hijabs and threatening letters sent to mosques and Islamic centers. Slightly over one-quarter of the anti-Muslim incidents reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center in November and December were perpetrated by those who made a specific reference to Trump, and many others were undoubtedly also motivated by his Islamophobic rhetoric.

As an agnostic, white, queer, US citizen, i don’t want to see this horrific practice revived. So i would love Hyattsville to be on record opposing a Muslim/Arab registry, supporting our Muslim and Arab neighbors, and saying that we will do nothing to aid the federal government in its profiling of Muslims and Arabs – or Latino/as or any other group.

When the President-Elect takes office, we must respond strongly whenever he mentions such a registry. It is only through the consistent, uncompromising action of individuals over the next 4-8 years that the great abuses he promises will be beaten back. One of those actions can be the passage of Paschall’s amended bill.

Regardless of your religious faith, a registry of Muslims and Arabs has no place in the US. I hope that the residents of our wonderful city will agree and support the council in passing this important bill.