By Owen Silverman Andrews
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan endorsed virulently anti-immigrant, climate change denying state Sen. Scott Wagner in the Pennsylvania GOP’s gubernatorial contest at a country club outside of York, Pa., on Thursday. While $25,000 donors emerged from luxury SUVs to attend the fundraiser, a group of mostly immigrants, Latinxs and Africans-Americans organized by CASA in Action protested outside.
The endorsement of millionaire waste management executive Wagner, co-sponsor of the Municipal Sanctuary and Federal Enforcement Act (SB 10) which would defund Philadelphia and potentially half of the senator’s district (which includes York, a “welcoming city”), revealed Gov. Hogan’s ultra-conservative side, which he has attempted to downplay in the run up to his bid for re-election in 2018.
Despite Hogan’s public posture of independence from an increasingly unpopular president, the governor’s actions are more consistent with the far-right wing stance he took in York. The parallels between Hogan’s and Trump’s policies are most salient on immigration, where state agents have ratcheted up pressure on immigrants in lockstep with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
“We are already seeing state law enforcement, all of these tentacles of the Maryland public safety arm, actively helping Trump’s deportation machine,” said Elizabeth Alex, CASA in Action regional director, who attended the protest. “We’re seeing this on a regular basis. Even in Baltimore City, where municipal police are ordered not to collaborate.”
Jesus Perez, who immigrated to Baltimore from Puebla, Mexico, in 1997 when he was five as his father sought a family-sustaining job, cited the recent rise in deportations as his motivation for traveling to York to protest.
“There was the one father, he was deported, his son attends Hampstead Hill,” an elementary school in Southeast Baltimore. “That story really hit me in the heart, because that’s right in our backyard. That’s not something we should be telling our kids ‘Be ready,’ no that’s not right. He was picked up right by the school [after dropping his children off in the morning]. Families are told to keep bringing their kids to school, and they’re wondering ‘Should I, should I not?’ This is a story that the media isn’t telling, but it’s something that we can’t hide from,” Perez said.
Increased immigration has been felt on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line that separates Maryland and Pennsylvania, as the number of immigrants living, working and attending school in Baltimore and York has increased in recent years.
Maria Molina, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic to New York 40 years ago before settling in south central Pennsylvania in 1997, recalls when there were few Latinx businesses along Prince Street, the main commercial drag in downtown York, before she and her husband opened a restaurant there.
“When we got here, there weren’t many Latinos. There was a lot of poverty here. There weren’t Hispanic businesses. But later there were more Hispanic businesses,” she said, speaking in Spanish.
Despite the positive economic impact of immigrants — who represent 18 percent of all small business owners in the U.S. — on local economies, both Gov. Hogan and Sen. Wagner have pinned their electoral ambitions on appealing to Trump voters by pushing xenophobic policies. Wagner, running in the Republican primary, has amped up his anti-immigrant public rhetoric. Hogan, meanwhile, more focused on wooing moderates in the general election, has taken a cunning tack, outflanking Maryland Democrats Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch — both well to the right of their party’s statewide base — on issues such as fracking while quietly enacting President Trump’s immigration policies.
“[Hogan] adding 16 more parole officers to Baltimore City doesn’t make me feel safer, it makes me feel like more people are gonna be deported,” Alex explained, suggesting these hires will likely be used for deportation proceeding check-ins. In addition to expanding capacity, the number of deportation raids and their brazenness has increased across the region.
Amidst this tense climate, immigrants and allies continue to organize bystander trainings, seek out religious congregations willing to provide sanctuary and provide court support.
Asked about the fight or flight reaction many immigrant families felt after President Trump’s election, Perez responded emphatically, “We’re going to continue to fight back. We’re here, whether you want us here or not. And we demand respect for our families, for immigrants, for Muslims, for transgender [people] … just like my teachers in elementary taught me to work with others, she was like ‘No, I put you in this group for a reason, and you’re going to make it work.’”
That night at the country club, millionaire state Sen. Wagner pulled in $500,000, mostly in five figure donations. At the end of the day, the struggle for immigrant justice is also a struggle between big money in politics and grassroots democracy.
Owen Silverman Andrews of Baltimore is an English language acquisition educator and a language and social justice advocate. He can be reached at [email protected].