Bring it on, Mr. President.
Bring on the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We’re America, remember?
From Portland to New York to suburban Maryland, people who live in the “sanctuary” cities where President Donald Trump is threatening to send border crossers aren’t having the reaction he envisioned.
Let’s check in not far from the White House, in the heart of downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s not an incorporated city, so it isn’t an official sanctuary city. But it’s in immigrant-friendly Montgomery County, which has a policy “not to inquire about anyone’s immigration status, nor does the County conduct any immigration enforcement or investigations.”
On one corner in Silver Spring, there were the Hare Krishnas, drumming and chanting and giving lollipops to anyone who would stop and listen to the story of Swami Prabhupada. On another corner, there was an evening palm procession by a largely Latino church congregation. Across the street, two buskers from Hyattsville, Maryland, played their brass horns, a group of Asian American skaters did tricks, and me and another white mom from Capitol Hill waited for our kids and their multicultural group of friends to finish their movie.
“This is who we are, right here. We’ve got Ethiopian people, people from south of the border, people like me, born and raised here,” said the trumpeter, Jay Carnegie, 37, who lives in Hyattsville, in neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland.
“These people who walk 2,000 miles to get to America? Let them in if they’re hard workers. And most of them are,” said Carnegie, after playing a round of “Baby Shark” for a giggling toddler in a stroller.
In this America, the arrival of migrants seeking asylum wouldn’t be a punishment, as Trump seems to think.
“He thinks it will be a really, really bad situation for our community, but he doesn’t know our community,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA Maryland, a group that is preparing to help any migrants who would be sent to sanctuary cities such as Hyattsville and nearby Takoma Park, Maryland.
“We are who we are because of the diversity here,” said Torres, who is already hearing from people across the region who want to help host any migrants released from detention. “The state of Maryland welcomed the Germans and the Italians who came here so many years ago. It is part of our humanity. It is part of our DNA.”
“We know these people have made great contributions to our area,” he said. “And anyone else coming will make great contributions to these towns. And 15 years later, they will be proud to have stared down this tyranny.”
Hyattsville, just 8 miles from the White House, voted to make itself a sanctuary city in 2017. That means it won’t turn undocumented residents over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and works with immigrants to help them to get legal status.
“I was proud of our decision then, and I remain proud of our decision now,” said Candace Hollingsworth, mayor of Hyattsville.
She said she’s not surprised that Trump is continuing his “degrading and ill-informed attacks” on migrants from Central America, primarily women and children.
“Local government has always and will continue to stand in the gap to address the critical needs of our residents regardless of where they’re from, how they got here or how they may vote,” Hollingsworth said.
Neighboring Takoma Park, with its long history of liberal activism, is walking that talk, too. It voted to become a sanctuary city more than three decades ago. And over the weekend, Mayor Kate Stewart fielded calls from residents already volunteering to open their homes and help any migrants who may be shipped to their town.
“One of the core principals of Takoma Park is helping families,” Stewart said. “So of course we’re ready to take them.”
Across the region, there are immigrants who hope they’ll be reunited with family members being held at the border. So it’s a little funny that this alleged threat may be the answer to their prayers.
But I couldn’t find anyone who would laugh at the irony here. Mostly, folks are shocked it’s come to this.
In that glorious cacophony of diversity in Silver Spring, Maryland, that night, I stood next to a 59-year-old, African American woman born and raised in Washington, D.C. She comes here, she said, to enjoy all the different kinds of people, food, sights and sounds.
“People who come here blend in, they find work, they become Americans,” she said, sweeping her arm across the colorful scene.