In a speech bookended by standing ovations, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told members of Baltimore's Latino community Thursday night that they are critical to meeting her goal of reversing the city's population decline and assured them that city government would not discriminate against them.
"In Baltimore, we value and will protect all of our people," she told more than 100 people gathered in a community room at the Southeast Anchor branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. "Our ambition is to grow Baltimore by 10,000 families in the next 10 years. I think you can help me with that."
The mayor was joined by agency representatives who answered questions about an executive order issued this month that prohibits city employees from inquiring about immigration status.
The order, hailed by the immigrant community, was issued after the federal government activated in Baltimore a program called Secure Communities, which transfers fingerprints collected by local law enforcement to federal immigration officials. Critics have said the mayor has turned Baltimore into an amnesty city, where the government turns a blind eye to illegal immigration
After Rawlings-Blake spoke, the floor was open for questions arranged by Casa de Maryland, the immigrant-rights group that organized the event. Representatives from the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, the Health Department, the public schools and the Police Department were present to field inquiries.
Juan Pablo Flores asked the mayor's panel whether immigrants could be assured that if they reported a crime, police would not ask for immigration documents.
"Anyone reporting a crime in Baltimore City should feel comfortable coming to us," said Maj. William Davis, a commander in the Southeastern District, where many Latinos live.
He asked that when reporting a crime, members of the Latino community provide reliable contact information. After a suspect is in custody, he said, officers too often have been unable to get in touch with Latinos who have reported a crime.
Marisol Angel, a mother of two girls enrolled in elementary school, asked how parents with limited English proficiency could stay active in their children's education.
All parents have a right to request an interpreter from the school and ask for any documents sent home to be translated, said Faviola Donato-Galindo, a city schools representative.