ANNAPOLIS – Maryland House Republicans, claiming they were blindsided by immigrant rights legislation last year, are proposing a clutch of bills designed to crack down on undocumented aliens in the state.
Immigration advocates say the bills send a bad message to Maryland’s foreign-born, and several, they say, are “anti-human” and irrational.
Two Baltimore County Republicans, Delegates Richard K. Impallaria and Patrick L. McDonough have proposed bills requiring Baltimore and Harford county and State Police to detain undocumented immigrants and contact federal immigration authorities.
Other of their bills would prevent the state from accepting Consular Registration Cards as identification and would make it illegal for vehicle owners to knowingly let illegal immigrants drive their cars.
McDonough said he also plans to propose a task force to investigate the effect of illegal immigrants on the job market.
Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, also proposed legislation prohibiting the Maryland Vehicle Administration from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
There are at least 44,000 illegal immigrants in Maryland, according to estimates in the 2000 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but McDonough estimates the figure is now 126,000.
Immigrant advocates say the bills are not sensible and represent extreme views.
“We think it’s a very dangerous and frightening statement about the level of xenophobia in the General Assembly,” said Kim Propeack, lobbyist for Casa of Maryland Inc., a Latino advocacy group. “We’re taking the legislation very seriously and we’re going to fight these bills tremendously.”
Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, said the group pushing the legislative crackdown on illegal immigrants is a “right-wing” minority. Their bills are a direct response to last year’s push to give driver’s licenses and in-state tuition status to undocumented immigrants in Maryland — measures Gutierrez supported.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich ultimately vetoed the tuition measure and the licensing bill was amended to create a task force to examine the feasibility and impact of such a change.
McDonough said “last year we were ambushed by these two unexpected pieces of legislation” and he countered that this year’s crop of GOP-sponsored immigration bills are very sensible and not targeting a specific racial or ethnic group.
Some of the bills, he said, were spurred by incidents involving illegal immigrant drivers, security fears stemming from Sept. 11, 2001, and the situation surrounding convicted Washington-area teen sniper, Lee Boyd Malvo, who was in the country illegally.
“We think it’s the most practical and sensible legislation that has been introduced anywhere in the country,” he said. “We expect it to be attacked by certain groups, we expected to be demonized . . . every time we are attacked, more and more people tell us keep up the ‘good work.'”
Yet the flutter of bills she opposes indicates a positive change at the General Assembly, Gutierrez said.
“The fact that there’s even a discussion going on is because (for) the first time you have two Latinos elected from last year,” Gutierrez said, referring to herself and Delegate Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, who both were sworn in in January 2003.
Ramirez also denounced the legislation.
“We have a lot of people who push legislation like this . . . being so anti-human,” he said. “It should be called anti-human instead of anti-immigrant.”
The national climate for immigration reform, Gutierrez said, takes a much more sensible approach than that in the State House. While she said the bills’ proponents are not to be associated with the Ehrlich administration’s stance on immigration issues, she had some suggestions for the governor.
“Some of the proposed bills are neither humane nor rational,” she said. “I would like to see the governor echo that Bush tone for an approach to deal with immigrant issues.”
President Bush recently proposed an initiative to allow the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country to legally work — motivating them to come forward and be identified. The approach, many say, would bring from the shadows the masses of immigrants living in the country unidentified.
Propeack said that the legislation puts immigration issues in the hands of local law enforcement — a plan that would be unnecessary and inefficient.
The immigration issue is not just Maryland’s problem, said John M. Kane, chairman of Maryland Republic Party, calling it “a national epidemic.”
And while Kane said illegal immigration concerns him locally, the extreme approach to immigration may not work in the state.
“We certainly have bigger crime battles to fight,” he said. “I think we’re attacking it from the wrong angle.”
– 30 – CNS-2-6-04