JUFJ member Sara Nathan spoke at the Montgomery County Council hearing about community oversight of the county police. Here is what she said:
Sara Nathan Bill 14-19, Oral Testimony
I’m a teacher and the views that I am here to talk to you about tonight are my own. I first want to thank the police officers who work at the school where I teach and at the schools that my children attend because I appreciate all their efforts to keep us safe.
I’m here tonight because I am concerned about what happens to my students when they interact with police. Montgomery County needs a Policing Advisory Commission to oversee interactions with immigrants and strengthen community trust between the police and immigrant communities. It is not enough for our county government just to issue a statement promising that police will not participate in any ICE immigration enforcement efforts. We need a clear policy that specifically details the Montgomery County Police will not assist ICE in any way.
Some of our Montgomery County neighbors who have not been tried or convicted of a crime are already behind bars where ICE rents space at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup. They could be transported back to an impoverished, violence-plagued land, separating them once again from mothers, sisters, homes, and communities they have built in Maryland.
Montgomery County police questioned my former student and his father on May 20. They expected to return home that afternoon. Instead, the county police turned them over to ICE and they remain locked up in Jessup.
When you hear in theory that an immigrant who hasn’t been tried or convicted of a crime could be detained by ICE, it’s theoretical. When you go to the Howard County facility in Jessup to visit somebody that you care about and see them behind the plexiglass window and you can only communicate through a phone system, it’s heartbreaking.
I taught this student when he first arrived from El Salvador with the beginning of the wave of unaccompanied minors in the spring of 2012. He was seeking safety from gang violence and economic insecurity. He was an intelligent, honest, teenage boy who grew into a hard-working young man. Since his graduation at DAR [Constitution Hall] in 2017, he has worked in commercial construction, welding, and auto repair.
Now, after being questioned by Montgomery County Police, he is behind bars in an ICE detention center. His family members are either not allowed to visit because they do not have driver’s licenses, or they are too scared to go to a detention center.
This raises several legal and humanitarian issues:
Are other immigrants who live in Montgomery County being detained without being tried or convicted of a crime?
Are others being held in ICE detention without bail or with unaffordable bail?
Are they receiving a speedy trial or are they enduring unnecessary separation from their families?
And how can immigrants feel they will be safe and protected when they need to report a crime?
Montgomery County needs a clear law and needs a Policing Advisory Commission to oversee these interactions.