County Executive Matt Meyer signs executive order to protect immigrant rights

 County Executive Matt Meyer signed an executive order that aims to protect the immigrant community. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

County Executive Matt Meyer signed an executive order that aims to protect the immigrant community. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer signed an executive order Wednesday that aims to protect immigrant rights.

During a press conference, Meyer said the order addresses a decreasing level of reporting to police, and participation in services and activities, among the immigrant population.

“We want anyone that sees something that they think is a problem in their community that police should be notified—or paramedics or fire—we want them to pick up the phone and call us without hesitation,” Meyer said.

“We want everyone living and working here to be a full participant in community and county activities and programs. We are not going to discriminate based on someone’s immigration status.”  

The order asserts county police do not enforce and implement immigration laws, explains when it is and isn’t appropriate for local law enforcement to collaborate and cooperate with federal authorities, or to share information on immigration statuses, and declares residents can participate in county services and activities no matter their immigration status.

Meyer and county police chief Col. Vaughn Bond said the order does not prevent law enforcement from keeping the public safe.

 “We’re not saying we’re not enforcing immigration rules. What we’re saying is our primary concern is providing police services to individuals,” Bond said. “If there is someone here, whether they’re here legally or illegally, if they’re involved in criminal activity the police department is going to take the necessary steps and appropriate enforcement action to deal with that person.”

Erika Gutierraz of Network Delaware said images on the news of individuals being deported has heightened fear among the immigrant population.

“The community feels really afraid of doing anything. A little event happens and it spreads like fire. And everyone starts being affected emotionally, psychologically—it’s disruptive. Everyone’s afraid of being separated—families, schools, friends, communities, churches—everybody’s involved,” she said.

“Crimes are committed against the community and not reported because of fear and retaliation from the police.”

Gutierraz said she believes the executive order will improve communications and deter crimes against immigrants.

“I think it’s going to make a huge difference, because it means there’s understanding, there’s an open door to solve problems, everyone’s included, it’s a community, and everyone’s willing to have a dialogue and make a safer community,” she said.

Bond said New Castle County Police rarely check immigration status during minor interactions, like a traffic stop. However, he said trends across the country suggest individuals from the immigrant community are more reluctant to come forward and provide information to police.

“We want to make people feel comfortable to come to us and get it out that if you’re here, your status in terms of being a citizen or not being a citizen, is no concern to us,” Bond said. “If you have a problem or issue, we in the New Castle County Police Department will assist you with your problem.”

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