Delegates Target Illegal Aliens
Earl Kelly, The Capital Online (MD), Jun. 6
In the latest flare-up in Maryland’s increasingly heated debate over immigration issues, a county lawmaker claims the federal government is ignoring local law enforcement agencies’ reports on the presence of illegal aliens.
Del. Don Dwyer, R-Glen Burnie, said Thursday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are unresponsive when police stop illegal aliens for, say, traffic violations and report them to federal authorities.
He said he will visit the bureau’s data center in Vermont at his own expense next month to demand answers.
“I am going to determine where the breakdown is,” Mr. Dwyer said. “There certainly appears to be a breakdown.”
Mr. Dwyer’s effort to have ICE detain and deport illegal aliens is but the latest attempt by some conservative legislators to reduce the number of undocumented aliens in Maryland.
On Wednesday, two Republican legislators from Baltimore County held a news conference to say they wrote President Bush and members of Congress, asking them to withhold federal funds from local jurisdictions — specifically Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — that fail to enforce federal immigration laws.
A spokesman for fellow Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he opposes the effort by Dels. Rick Impallaria and Pat McDonough because it could reduce funding for public safety and homeland security.
This latest round of attention to illegal aliens comes after Mr. Ehrlich, speaking last month on a Baltimore radio station, attacked multiculturalism as “bunk” and “crap.”
Mr. Ehrlich’s comments followed a statement that Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a conservative Democrat, made criticizing a Severna Park McDonald’s employee whom he said couldn’t speak English.
And earlier in the year there were flaps over a failed bill to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition for public colleges and universities, and another bill by Del. Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis, to bar them from obtaining Maryland driver’s licenses.
Legislators who want tighter immigration controls also have complained that illegal aliens are a drain on local resources.
The head of one local Hispanic group called attacks on illegal immigrants “political grandstanding.”
“I think it is a Republican thing — something they have chosen for a political platform,”
said Ives Martinez, president of ALMAA, a local Latino service group. “They are exploiting this to the max.”
Citing federal Department of Homeland Security numbers, Mr. McDonough said as many as 12 million illegal aliens live in the United States, and and about 800,000 of them are guilty of committing crimes beyond entering the country unlawfully.
Mr. McDonough said that federal estimates show that Maryland has about 100,000 illegal immigrants.
Spokesmen for the Anne Arundel County and Annapolis police departments said they report suspected illegal aliens, but it is up to ICE whether to pursue the matter.
Generally, ICE will pick up a suspect accused of committing a felony, but not traffic violations, said county police spokesman Lt. Joe Jordan.
ICE generally does not respond when the only issue is a person’s immigrant status.
ICE spokesman Ernestine Fobbs said there aren’t enough immigration officers to go around, and it is a matter of setting priorities.
“When resources do (permit), we do respond,” she said. “But national security is the top priority.”
Immigration status became an issue for local and state governments following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon, she said.
Now, according to Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, a member of a task force studying the possibility of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, immigrants have become “scapegoats” in a time of job shortages and worries about national security.
Spokesmen for the Hispanic community say the focus on immigrant status and the benefits immigrants receive is unnecessarily divisive.
For starters, Ms. Gutierrez said, there is a basic misunderstanding over the term “illegal alien.” She said it is incorrect and most are merely “undocumented” immigrants.
In most cases, she said, the violation is merely a civil case — not a criminal matter — when paperwork has expired.
Many immigrants arrive in the country legally, she said, but when their documents expire, they must wait until new ones are issued. This process can take months and even years, during which time they are technically “illegal.”
One of the hottest debates has surrounded possibly allowing undocumented immigrants to have drivers’ licenses.
Supporters of the proposal say that being able to drive would enable these people to get better jobs and acquire auto insurance.
Opponents, however, say it would give illegal aliens an identification card that could be used to get through security in places such as airports.
Also, immigrant advocates say that allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities and colleges will ultimately allow them to contribute more to the state’s economy. Critics like Mr. McMillan said it would encourage and reward illegal behavior.
Benefits for ‘illegals’
Representatives of several county agencies said they have to provide services to these immigrants, whatever their status.
“We follow the law — that means we are not allowed to ask whether or not a child is in this country legally or illegally,” said Jonathan Brice, a spokesman for the county school system.
The law to which Mr. Brice referred is a 1982 case in which the Supreme Court held by the narrowest of margins that local school systems could not deny education to children based on their immigration status.
Senior Assistant County Attorney Julie T. Sweeney, in a memo to a county department in May 2000, clarified when illegal immigrants are eligible for benefits and services.
“In my opinion, the services sponsored by the Department of Aging may be provided to citizens, legal aliens and illegal aliens alike, because the programs do not involve a general cash public assistance,” Ms. Sweeney wrote.
The Department of Health, for example, provides a number of services for residents, regardless of their immigration status.
The department runs clinics that test for and treat HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as tuberculosis. Also, illegal immigrant status does not disqualify residents from receiving breast and cervical cancer testing.
The department’s spokesman, Elin Jones, said young children also qualify for additional medical services, regardless of their immigrant status.
Spokesmen for both area hospitals, which are not owned by the county, said their facilities provide emergency care without questioning the patient’s immigration status.
The Food and Nutrition Services Department, a self-supporting office that provides breakfasts and lunches for students in public schools, does not consider immigration status in deciding which students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, said Robert Leib, the department’s director of business and government services.
“All those are approved in accordance with federal guidelines,” he said.
The county Housing Commission, on the other hand, provides services and benefits to only natural and naturalized citizens. Immigrants, whether legal or not, generally do not qualify, said the commission’s executive director, Larry Lloyd. The Department of Social Services offers only limited grant-funded services for immigrants.
Whether a local agency provides a lot or only a few benefits, Mr. McMillan blames the federal government “for not doing its job” in allowing undocumented immigrants into the country, and for requiring local jurisdictions to offer illegal aliens services.
Neither side is likely to surrender ground in this battle.
“I see unfair competition that (undermines) the average working man and woman,” Mr. McMillan said.
But Ms. Gutierrez countered: “Their message is destructive and divisive, they appeal to our lower nature.”