Bel Air Police Reportedly Stop Woman and Ask Her, ‘Are You Here Illegally?’

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Aravinda Pillalamarri has been living in Bel Air for nearly 30 years and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Police in her Harford County town learned this after stopping her last month and questioning her immigration status.

The Aegis reports Pillalamarri, who is Indian-American, was walking in her neighborhood on Dec. 21 when a Bel Air police officer stopped her. When she asked why he was questioning her, he said someone had called the police. She said she asked the officer, “Walking while brown?”

Another officer then arrived and told Pillalamarri she couldn’t leave the scene because she was under criminal investigation. When she said she didn’t have her ID on her, the officer asked if she was in the country illegally, according to the newspaper. Only once they ran her name through their computer system was she free to go.

The incident has sparked a conversation in the town about whether local law enforcement has policies for stopping individuals to question their immigration status. Bel Air Police Department Chief Charles Moore told the paper his department would implement a policy and that such stops are “not going to be the norm.”

Some local officials have recently taken stands against helping federal authorities identify and deport undocumented immigrants following Donald Trump’s election to the White House. For months, Trump expressed his intention to deport millions of immigrants from the country once he took office. This week, he signed an executive order saying he will withhold federal funds from jurisdictions that offer sanctuary to those who are in the country illegally.

Shortly after Trump’s election, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz publicly declared he had asked his police department not to assist federal immigration agents with deporting students from the county’s college campuses. Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler criticized Kamenetz and asked him to join his county in checking all county inmates’ immigration status to help federal authorities deport any undocumented persons.

The sheriff’s department told the Aegis it doesn’t have a policy for questioning people’s immigration status and asks for identification, rather than proof of citizenship. A spokesperson did say they may run an individual’s ID through a computer during a stop and will contact immigration authorities if a database generates an alert for the person’s name.

Moore said Bel Air Police Department might hold an “open forum” about the matter, according to The Aegis. “When you start doing that to people of color, of different origin, different cultures, you start to develop a level of mistrust among those people,” he told the paper, adding, “That’s not what we want in the Town of Bel Air.”

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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