Rockville considers pro-immigrant ordinance

For a long time, Rockville police have had an informal policy to not ask anyone about their immigration status, or for help with immigration enforcement.

But in the wake of major immigration policy changes by the Trump administration, the city is considering an ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr, that would make its policies official.

Seventy-five people signed up to speak on the topic Monday night during a public hearing at City Hall.

“It’s a common sense effort to foster trust between the community and the police department that will make the community more safe,” said Ben Shnider, who launched a petition on to “Make Rockville, MD a Sanctuary City.” As of Monday night, the petition had 1,120 supporters.

Another petition, “Say NO to Rockville Becoming A Sanctuary City,” had 545 supporters as of Monday night.

Former Councilmember Tom Moore said now is the time for the city to formalize its policies.

“A law that tells the terrified children in Rockville that this city will play no part in deporting their parents, no part in destroying their families,” he said.

Resident Nancy Shih said that the ordinance would make Rockville less safe.

“Horrible MS-13 gang crimes are everywhere nowadays. Do you read the newspaper?” she asked.

“It gives undocumented immigrants a false sense of security,” said Zhenya Li, a Chinese immigrant who is a U.S. citizen.

Assistant Montgomery County Police Chief Russ Hamill attended the hearing at the request of Police Chief Tom Manger to talk about what the changes on the federal level mean for his department and Rockville police.

“The current presidential administration’s orders and directions have little bearing on the day to day operations of local law enforcement agencies, including here locally, including our departments. The president does not direct the actions of local police organizations, and these measures do not influence our operations. Nothing has changed over the past two months,” Hamill said.

“We conduct our local law enforcement duties the same as we have done since the day I came here over 33 years ago. We do it fairly, impartially, and with a goal to serve everyone equally without regard to race, creed, color, nationality, or any other status somebody could think of,” he added.

Seventy-five people signed up to speak during a public hearing Monday night at Rockville City Hall about plans to clarify the city's stance on immigration. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

Carson compares slaves to immigrants coming to ‘a land of dreams and opportunity’

Ben Carson compared slaves to immigrants seeking a better life in his first official address Monday as Housing and Urban Development secretary, setting off an uproar on social media.

In what appears to be an embarrassing pattern of missteps on race for the Trump administration, Carson told a room packed with hundreds of federal workers that the Africans captured, sold and transported to America against their will had the same hopes and dreams as early immigrants.

“That's what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less,” said Carson, speaking extemporaneously as he paced the room with a microphone. “But they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

His comments were broadcast live to all of HUD’s regional field offices as well as to the public.

A senior HUD official who spoke on condition of anonymity said no one in the room interpreted Carson’s comments as anything but a “heartfelt introduction to the HUD family.”

“He was making a point about people who came to this country for a better life for their kids,” the official said. “Nobody in that room put two and two together and came to five. Only the most cynical interpretation would conflate voluntary immigration to this country with involuntary servitude.”

Near the end of the town hall event, during a question-and-answer session, one HUD staffer took the microphone and thanked Carson for addressing the staff, noting that many in attendance had been worried about how the Trump administration would approach HUD and its work. The staffer said that she had been reassured by Carson’s comments as others clapped.

But the reaction on social media was swift and unforgiving.

On Twitter, users poked fun of the retired neurosurgeon’s gaffe, questioning whether he needed a brain transplant. They posted pictures of slave shackles on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, sarcastically asking whether Carson would refer to the instruments of bondage as “luggage.” Others said, using Carson's logic, that internment camps should be called “summer retreats” and concentration camps “diet facilities.”

The backlash caught several HUD employees who attended the event off guard, including career professionals at the department who said his speech was very well received internally. Carson’s team walked away from the event thinking it had gone very smoothly.

“HUD has many employees who are African American and at the end of his remarks they stood up and applauded for the secretary. Many went to take pictures of him,” said one staffer, speaking on background.

Another career staffer, who is black, said he did not notice that Carson had referred to slaves as "immigrants" until he read the media coverage hours later.

"That was lost on most people in the room. He was making the point that people didn’t just come through Ellis Island," the staffer said. "If anything, I thought someone may have taken issue with the fact that he was pointing out it was rougher for black people."

Carson weighed in on the controversy Monday night, saying on Twitter that a person "can be an involuntary immigrant," then proceeded to define an immigrant as "a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country."

"Slaves didn't just give up and die, our ancestors made something of themselves," Carson wrote on Twitter. His tweets included links to clips from a radio interview on the Armstrong Williams Show, in which he tried clarifying his earlier comments and repeated his use of the term "immigrant" to describe slaves. He also accused the media of blowing his remarks into a controversy.

Carson struck a more conciliatory tone later Monday night in a Facebook post on his personal page, writing that immigrants and slaves went through "two entirely different experiences."

"Slaves were ripped from their families and their homes and forced against their will after being sold into slavery by slave traders," he wrote. "The Immigrants made the choice to come to America. They saw this country as a land of opportunity. In contrast, slaves were forced here against their will and lost all their opportunities. We continue to live with that legacy."

Growing number of migrants renouncing Canadian immigrant status

More than 21,000 people with permanent resident cards who had the opportunity to become Canadian citizens have turned their back on the quest in the past two years. The highest number of  “renunciations” are from citizens of China, India and South Korea.

People who renounce their permanent resident status no longer have to prove they’re spending significant time in Canada when they cross the borders or fly into an airport, say immigration lawyers in Vancouver.

Nor do Canadian immigration process dropouts have to give up the passport of their homelands, where many continue to work or run businesses. And they are not expected to declare their foreign assets to Canada Revenue Agency.

“Renunciations are growing in number and will likely remain high,” says an internal report from Canada’s immigration office in Shanghai, China, the largest source country for immigrants to B.C.

“Many people are renouncing five years after landing (in Canada), rather than renewing their permanent cards, as they are working in China and do not meet residency requirements,” says the internal report, published in the Vancouver newsletter Lexbase.

“Their children often remain in Canada to complete school and to begin their careers.”

According to three Vancouver immigration lawyers, many people who renounce their permanent resident cards continue to return to gateway cities such as Vancouver and Toronto to visit their families as temporary visitors, especially on the increasingly popular 10-year visas.

“They were getting picked off at Vancouver airport for failure to meet residency requirements. This way they can avoid that problem and still come here,” said B.C. immigration lawyer Sam Hyman, noting the strong majority of migrants to Metro Vancouver are from Asia.

People with permanent resident status in Canada are required to spend two years out of every five in the country.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Jeffrey Lowe said many people who renounce their permanent status are breadwinners who cannot meet Canada’s two-year-residency requirement because they hold down jobs elsewhere, typically earning more money in their homeland than they believe they could in Canada.

A large number of these are so-called astronaut parents, who work offshore while their spouses and school-attending children remain in Canada, usually in urban centres, and own residential property, say the immigration lawyers.

The rapid rise in renunciations began in 2015 after then-immigration minister Chris Alexander, of the Conservatives, changed the rules to make it easier to voluntarily withdraw from the immigration process.

In the two years up to September of 2016, Citizenship and Immigration Canada figures show there were 5,407 renunciations by citizens of China, 2,431 by citizens of India, 1,681 by South Koreans, 1,416 by Britons and 1,129 by Taiwanese.

“A lot of people with permanent resident status have wanted to get their family and wealth transferred into Canada,” said Hyman.

“Some have bought multiple properties. By renouncing their permanent resident status they can stay below the radar and avoid Canadian taxes,” he said.

“They can visit Canada whenever they want on a 10-year visa. Why would they want anything else?”

Another reason foreigners renounce the Canadian immigration process, according to Hyman, is so family breadwinners won’t have to give up their passport and citizenship privileges in economically vibrant homelands like China and South Korea.

China and India do not allow their citizens to hold two passports, and South Korea only in rare cases.

Lowe says he expects renunciations to jump even more since the federal government in November began requiring a new customs document for some travellers, called ETA, or electronic travel authorization.

Foreign nationals from certain countries can’t obtain an ETA if they are a permanent resident or if they are non-compliant with the terms of their residency card, Lowe said. As a result they’re not allowed to board a plane to come to Canada.

Given that problem, Lowe said many would-be immigrants choose to renounce their residency status and instead simply apply for temporary visas to Canada.

Richard Kurland, author of the Lexbase newsletter, said it’s become common for breadwinners to bring their entire family to B.C. as permanent residents and then to decide “either it’s too cold or there’s no way I’m going to file an income tax return and report my global interests and property and pay taxes in Canada on that. I’m returning to my country of origin.”

In many cases, Kurland said, just the spouse and children who physically stay in Canada for five years end up being the ones who become Canadian citizens.

“They get into the country. But not the person who brought them to Canada in the first place.”

In some cases, Kurland says, the family members who remain in places such as Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal while the breadwinner pays taxes elsewhere end up living, “technically,” below the poverty line.

Meanwhile, he said the family breadwinners “are happy to just come to Canada for two or three weeks several times a year. They just come to visit and for holidays.”

If the breadwinner should ever want to retire in Canada, Kurland said, their now-Canadian spouse or children could apply to sponsor them.

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