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Maryland’s Gov. Hogan is Using Tragedy to Scapegoat Immigrants, Oppose State Trust Act

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Some Republicans have been trying to turn a horrific rape in a Rockville, Maryland high school into an anti-immigration news story, because the alleged perpetrators are immigrants.  It’s a sad exploitation of the situation. Treating this as an immigration problem rather than a sexual assault problem will certainly not lead to constructive measures that prevent future abuse.

The story has taken on a national profile, with callers threatening to burn down the school and threatening to “shoot the illegals” — and with Republican officials using the case for their own means. Sean Spicer last week cited the rape as justification for Trump’s mass deportation agenda. Yesterday, Jeff Sessions, when asked about the story, responded that Maryland’s consideration of the pro-immigrant Maryland Law Enforcement and Trust Act (MLETA) would make the state “more at risk for violence and crime.” And Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan has used the case as a reason to not support MLETA, making all kinds of wildly misleading statements about immigrants and the intention of the legislation.

There are at least two issues here: 1) It shouldn’t have to be said, but there are law-abiding and lawbreaking individuals in any given group of people. To characterize a group based on the actions of individuals (who constitute a small fraction) because they share the same race is a classic definition of racism. Yes, the accused in this story are immigrants — but so are the high school students in this article about undocumented teenagers in Maryland, who have “survived untold horrors”, survived rape, witnessed murders, hidden from gangs, and now just want to be able to get through high school.

As a Baltimore Sun editorial last week noted, “the crime now seems to be bringing out the worst kind of demagoguery from public officials who should know better.”  It continues:

The two suspects in the Rockville incident are undocumented immigrants, but what does that have to do with their crime? Public schools are required under federal law to provide a public education to all children regardless of legal status. There was no apparent failure to cooperate with authorities or any connection of the suspects to foreign gangs (a common talking point within the anti-immigration crowd). Nor was this the first example of a sexual assault taking place in a public school in Maryland. In 2013, a 14-year-old was allegedly raped by a 17-year-old junior at Wilde Lake High School, and a 14-year-old at Arundel Senior High was charged with sexually assaulting a classmate in a school bathroom in 2012; neither of the alleged perpetrators was an immigrant…

It’s particularly disappointing to hear this kind of race-baiting come from Mr. Hogan who has, on other issues, been willing to detach himself from President Trump’s hateful strain of nativism. Would the Rockville case be preying on his mind (he’s posted multiple references to it — including press accounts of his reaction to it — on his Facebook page) if the suspects were Northern European? This is shaping up as another Willie Horton moment for the GOP and a chance to stir racial fears of the “other” within our communities.

And 2) research consistently shows immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. Cities and states that are protective of their undocumented populations are more safe as a result — because the relationship between immigrant communities and the police works best when both can trust each other. That’s what MLETA seeks to do. A Washington Post editorial over the weekend called it a “good compromise”:

Mr. Hogan is exercised that the bill would prohibit most localities from holding undocumented immigrants in jail for 48 hours after their scheduled release date at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, so they can be transferred directly to federal custody. But nothing in the amended legislation would bar those localities from informing ICE of release dates so that federal officials could detain inmates when they walk out of jail.

Similarly, the bill requires localities to comply with any warrant to hold undocumented immigrants issued by federal courts on the basis of probable cause. Such a warrant would be easily obtainable by ICE in the case of prisoners who pose a danger to public safety or national security. Despite Mr. Hogan’s assertions, nothing in the bill blocks local officials from sharing information with federal authorities about an undocumented immigrant’s criminal record or responding to subpoenas. And jurisdictions that have decided to cooperate even more closely with the feds, including Frederick, Harford and Anne Arundel counties, could continue doing so…

If adopted by the state Senate, the bill would represent that increasingly rare legislative thing: a compromise.

The reasonable thing to do here would be to recognize that horrible incidents, when they happen, don’t reflect on groups comprised of millions of people. Gov. Hogan should stop his immigrant-bashing, and support MLETA if he’s seriously concerned about crime.

Finally, a statement from the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault reminds us that what we need to be paying attention to are the needs of sexual assault victims, not the accused’s immigration status:

There have been virtually no public officials calling attention to the need for services for sexual survivors. Sexual assault is more prevalent among adolescents than any other age group, with 33% of all victims falling in the 13-17 age range.  “Statements suggesting that this rape occurred because of the perpetrators’ immigration status are not only wrong, they endanger the public by suggesting that certain types of people are more likely to commit rape,” said Jordan. “Sexual assault occurs in every community and every community needs access to services.”