ANNAPOLIS – Placards and signs went out the door but immigrant advocates still made their presence felt at a tense House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on bills built on what opponents called an “anti-immigrant platform.”
The “Friends of New Marylanders,” a group opposing a number of bills targeting illegal immigrants, teamed up with local officials, lawmakers and labor representatives to denounce the proposed laws during a news conference before the hearing.
Although the conference and the hearing were held in the same room, the tones differed.
At the news conference, opponents, a polyglot of ethnicities and nationalities, held placards, signs and green pieces of paper announcing, “We are a Nation of Immigrants.”
Speakers included Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan and delegates from the Baltimore region and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. But it was the personal stories that had the most impact.
Edgar Ramirez, 23, from Hyattsville, is a soldier in the Army’s 18th Airborne Corps who recently fought in Iraq although he is not a U.S. citizen.
Ramirez, who came to the country eight years ago from Guatemala, told the committee he still gets harassed by police over his appearance, despite serving the country in war. Encouraging law enforcement to detain illegal aliens, he said, would increase such incidents.
“I am against all this legislation, these people came here to work,” he said, adding the legislation is built on assumptions that many immigrants are criminals, gangsters and terrorists.
“Who am I, how I dress, it doesn’t matter,” Ramirez said. “People like me, we (make) great contributions.”
Duncan said his father fled France during the Nazi Germany invasion and he sympathizes with the growing immigrant community. He said he recognized the hard work of immigrants forced to come to America to flee strife and find work. The legislation, he added, would set back the relationship between the immigrant community and local law enforcement.
The October 2002 Washington sniper shootings — in which several immigrants were killed — he also noted, were a tragedy affecting the entire region and should not be ammo for anti-immigrant legislation.
“If you’re going to suffer as part of the community you should be able to enjoy the benefits of that community as well,” Duncan said.
Once the hearing began, opponents hoisting signs were asked to put them away. But tempers still flared in the time between the conference and the hearing: Ramirez confronted Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, about the legislation he proposed and stormed off furiously.
McMillan introduced a bill to prohibit the Motor Vehicle Administration from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
Baltimore County Delegates Richard K. Impallaria and Patrick L. McDonough introduced bills requiring Baltimore and Harford County and State Police to detain undocumented immigrants and contact federal immigration authorities.
Other bills they sponsored 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.
The committee also heard a bill introduced by Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-Baltimore County, to prohibit police from detaining illegal immigrants without meeting the criteria of a warrantless arrest.
During the hearing, the mostly Democratic committee grilled the two Baltimore County delegates on specifics and the type of support they have to show for their legislation.
Delegate Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, questioned the logic behind pulling over someone, identifying them as an illegal immigrant and referring that person to immigration authorities.
“We shouldn’t stop enforcing laws because they’re tough,” Impallaria responded to one of Zirkin’s questions.
It’s unacceptable to selectively enforce federal laws, as is now the norm, proponents said.
Although a large number of immigrant advocates attended the hearing and conference, Impallaria said that in the state and country, the immigrant supporters represent the minority.
“We are not facing strong opposition,” he said, “we are facing a well-organized minority group.”
– 30 – CNS-2-18-04