Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council on Monday said county police “will play no role” in a federal government operation to deport recent illegal immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
Leggett and the nine-member council released a lengthy statement on the issue amid fears in local Hispanic communities that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, such as the nationwide operation over New Year’s Day weekend, could happen in schools, supermarkets or other public places in the county.
“People are in panic mode,” said Nestor Alvarenga, the county’s liaison to the Latino community. “There have been rumors here and there in Wheaton and Aspen Hill and Langley Park. Parents are afraid and we’ve had parent coordinators and principals notice students who haven’t come to school. We’re trying to tell people to calm down. ICE to this day hasn’t gone into a school, so hopefully it stays that way.”
Alvarenga said the county has closely monitored the situation since Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Jan. 4 that ICE took 121 individuals into custody for deportation over New Year’s Day weekend.
Johnson said the individuals were originally apprehended after May 1, 2014, crossing the southern border illegally and have exhausted all legal options for remaining in the U.S.
The operations that weekend happened primarily in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, Johnson said.
Alvarenga said county officials are in contact with the ICE field office and are watching for warrants issued for any county residents.
“To the members of our Montgomery County community who are justifiably concerned about the federal government’s most recent deportation actions, we encourage you to go about your daily activities free of fear,” the statement from Leggett and the County Council read. “Go to your schools, work, and faith congregations, social service agencies, hospitals and medical clinics, community organizations and public buildings, as well as grocery stores and other commercial areas. Continue helping us work hard every day to make Montgomery County one of the very best places to live, work, play, and age with dignity in the nation.”
More than 100,000 families have reportedly crossed the southern border since 2014 in a new surge of migration spurred by violence in Central American countries including El Salvador. Langley Park, Wheaton and parts of Silver Spring are among U.S. communities with the highest percentage of immigrants from that country.
“We in Montgomery County, especially our public safety officers, have worked extremely hard to build trust with our immigrant population. We are convinced this is the key to reducing crime and building a thriving, welcoming community where all can live in peace,” the statement reads. “We are very concerned that any federal enforcement actions in our county not undermine this trust and threaten public safety in our community.”
The statement also references a recent trip by county officials to Morazan, El Salvador, an official Sister City of the county.
“We know that if we all act with calm and dignity and work together, we have the capacity to get through these difficult times and improve the lives of those who have come to our country and those who remain in their native lands,” the statement read.