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Bel Air Woman's Immigration Status Questioned In Own Neighborhood

BEL AIR, Md. (WJZ) -- A Maryland woman is asked her immigration status while taking a walk in her Harford County neighborhood.

But, the Bel Air police Department is owning up to its misstep and says it will learn from this.

"I didn't expect this to happen in Bel Air. Walking while brown? He said, 'no, no, no, nothing like that,'" says Bel Air resident Aravinda Pillalamarri.

Pillalamarri tells WJZ Bel Air police officers demanded her ID after a resident called her in as suspicious.

"I had just come out for a walk, so I didn't have my ID. And he said, "Why don't you have id? Are you here illegally?" says Pillalamarri.

Bel Air Police Chief Charles Moore says asking her nationality is insensitive, but not racial profiling.

"They were trying to figure out why there was some hesitation to provide identification, that's why he asked if she was illegal," says Moore.

Pillalamarri is an American citizen. But promises from President Donald Trump have brought sensitivity on the issue of undocumented immigration into question.

"People are uncertain, we don't know what to expect. So this is really, I think, a reflection of that uncertainty that people are feeling," says Dr. Zainab Choudry, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Chief Moore, and Pillalamari, who shared her experience at a town hall meeting are both seeing this as a chance for real change.

"That's an education for me, that's helped me out to see that, not only do I have to get my officers trained, I have to get the dispatchers trained on how to react to a situation like that in the future," says Chief Moore.

Prying open a discussion about diversity and civil rights in central Maryland.

"Social justice starts locally, and I'm really proud that bel air is rising to that challenge," says Pillalamari.

Chief Moore, who's only been in his position for a year and a half, says he'll also be looking at strengthening the department's policies.

Bel Air is also developing a citizen's advisory board to discuss similar issues.


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