Baltimore City recently tightened its laws to protect the rights of immigrants taking residence within city limits, garnering much praise from social justice, civil rights, and work unions across the nation.

The executive order issued by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake last week expounds upon Baltimore City’s standing anti-discrimination laws with the goal of increasing the safety of “new Americans” and their faith in city officials and agencies.

“Baltimore City has had a long standing unwritten, unspoken policy to not inquire about immigration status and to reach out into the Hispanic community to build trust- but it was never formalized,” said Elizabeth Alex, of Casa De Maryland, the largest Latino organization in the state.

With the new order, Alex hopes that spreading knowledge about the executive order will foster better relationships between Baltimore residents and police. The revamped laws block attempts to deny illegal immigrants public service benefits, and prohibits officials from using city monies, staff, or equipment to investigate, arrest, or detain an individual for only being an illegal immigrant. The order also prevents officials from reporting victims and witnesses of crime to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

“This is a responsible politician trying to take care of the needs of all residents in Baltimore,” said National Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, Arlene Holt-Baker. “It’s a step in the right direction.” The mandate to beef up anti-discrimination laws has already taken affect and comes mere days after the ICE announcement that its’ Secure Communities effort would be introduced to Baltimore. Intending to remove illegal immigrants who have committed violent and serious crimes, Secure Communities was first introduced in 2008.

However, instead of only removing undocumented immigrants who have proven to be dangers to society, the program has targeted new all Americans who in many cases have only committed minor crimes, such as traffic violations, or even no crime at all outside of trying to make a life in a new country as an illegal immigrant.

“Throughout Baltimore’s great history, we have strived to be a place that welcomes foreign-born residents to participate fully in civic life, recognizing that our city’s ethnic and cultural diversity is a key element to strong and growing neighborhoods,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security show that between October 27, 2008 through January 31, 2012, 717 Marylanders were deported or returned to their homelands as a result of programs like Secure Communities. Reports from the Pew Hispanic Center show that the Obama Administration has produced record numbers of deportations, almost 400,000 year, with 97 percent of that number being of Hispanic or Latino descent.

Legislation aimed at immigrants in America has already been passed in at least five within the last two years, creating much controversy and a national uproar, given that all Americans are technically immigrants from somewhere whether by choice or force. Arizona’s SB 1070 has been named the most stringent of illegal immigration reform. The law was passed in 2010 and put in place laws such as the requirement that all employers check the immigration status of their workers.

Similar to Arizona, Alabama’s SB 56 gives police officers the power and duties of immigration officials and allows for any officer to question a person they suspect to be an undocumented immigrant. SB 56 also bars illegal immigrants from taking college courses and requires immigrants to show proof of citizenship for children enrolled in grades K-12. Both laws have been passed, though not every aspect of each bill is currently enforced while appeals and challenges are handled by the court system.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer