Montgomery Co. officials concerned immigrants in need ‘going underground’

ROCKVILLE, Md — Community leaders in Montgomery County, Maryland, say they are concerned people aren’t getting the message that immigration status should not prevent them from seeking help.

“We’re fearful they’re going underground in a way that will cause harm to them,” said Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner.

At a recent meeting of county department heads, Berliner said he was informed that some people eligible for federal benefits aren’t taking advantage of them because they fear being targeted for deportation.

“Now you’re talking about people going hungry because of fear that has been created by the president of the United States,” Berliner said. He did not share specific numbers of people potentially impacted.

A meeting of county and community partners to be held Wednesday will serve as a brain storming session for more effective ways to assure residents they’re safe seeking services regardless of immigration status, Berliner said.

“What more can we do, what more help do you need — in order to reach out to the communities and let them know they are safe, respected, honored here in Montgomery County?” Berliner said.

Berliner said he, along with Montgomery County’s police chief, the corrections head and the county attorney will meet with locally elected state leaders in Annapolis on Friday to reiterate Montgomery County’s philosophy of maintaining a safe but inclusive community.

In cases where there is a warrant for someone’s arrest or there’s probable cause that a crime has been committed, Berliner said county authorities will cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Otherwise, he said local police will make no inquiries regarding a person’s immigration status.

“Our community is a county of immigrants — 170 different cultures,” Berliner said. “So when the president comes out with executive orders that roil our community, that threaten to split our community, it is incumbent on our county to stand up and speak out. And we have done so.”

In a jointly released statement last week, the entire Montgomery County Council and County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett said that understanding, tolerance and respect are hallmarks of the inclusive “Montgomery County way.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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