TAKOMA PARK, Md.– The Takoma Park City Council passed a resolution May 1 welcoming refugees and asylum seekers to settle in the community, a largely symbolic measure intended to broaden support for immigrants and refugees, according to supporters.
The resolution was proposed by the Takoma Park/Silver Spring chapter of Amnesty International and supported by the Ethiopian Community Development Council, a national refugee-resettling organization.
Amnesty International local Chapter President Randy Marks said that refugee and immigration and refugee issues have become a priority for the organization nationwide, and that he hopes the Takoma resolution is a “building block” for similar measures to be passed throughout Maryland. The text of the measure, “calls on Montgomery County and other counties and cities to pass similar resolutions,” and Council Member Kacy Kostiuk said she forwarded the resolution to colleagues in local government.
The City Council passed similar measures in 2017 and 2015, but Kostiuk said this year’s resolution was adopted in part to combat “national rhetoric.”
“It’s something that the elected leaders as well as the staff members and community members as a whole really do support,” Kostiuk added. “It’s a natural fit for a lot of us.”
In September, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the U.S. would accept 30,000 refugees in fiscal year 2019, a 15,000-person drop from fiscal year 2018 and the lowest refugee intake since the State Department created the refugee program in 1980. With less than five months remaining this fiscal year, just 14,000 refugees have been resettled, according to Nezia Kubwayo, spokeswoman for ECDC, one of nine organizations that works with the State Department to resettle refugees, and which has an office in Silver Spring.
“We are struggling right now,” she said. “Any community that’s willing to welcome refugees is a welcome idea right now.”
Takoma Park, a so-called Sanctuary City, has historically been welcoming to immigrants and refugees, according to former Council Member Seth Grimes, who noted that it is policy not to take into account immigration status in any city programs. All city employees including police officers are prohibited from asking residents’ immigration status and non-U.S. citizens are free to vote in city elections.
“The city and Montgomery County also—the leaders have for many, many years tried to create an image of welcome for people who have come to our communities for any number of reasons from other countries,” Grimes said.
Grimes also pointed out that members of the community, and not just local governments, have been eager to help immigrants and refugees. Grimes himself housed a Guatemalan mother and child who, after being detained at the border, needed temporary shelter while their asylum claims were being processed in Baltimore.
“We should never turn our back to people displaced by disaster,” said Manyang Reth Kher, a former Sudanese refugee and current director of Humanity Helping Sudan Project, a refugee advocacy organization based in Silver Spring. “No one ever wants to leave their home and become a refugee.”