ANNAPOLIS – House Judiciary Committee members struck down two bills Friday that immigrant groups and religious leaders said were anti-immigrant.
The bills would have required the Baltimore County Police Department to detain illegal immigrants and would have established a penalty for allowing an unlawful immigrant to drive an automobile, a fine of $500 and forfeiture of the vehicle.
The Rev. Joseph Pak of the Global Mission Church in Silver Spring joined other religious leaders Thursday at a news conference on several immigrant bills and spoke out against the two bills.
“I am really happy that the bills were struck down,” Pak said Friday. “I am very happy to know that the delegates are listening to the voices of people of Asian and Latino descent.”
If any of the bills pass, Pak and other leaders said, many legal immigrants would be swept up in error, wasting their time and creating a lot of resentment within the immigrant community.
House committees have yet to vote on other bills affecting immigrants, including one introduced by Delegate Herbert McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, that requires proof of lawful residency before obtaining a driver’s license.
That measure is getting more support from committee members than in previous years, said McMillan, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
“I’m certain we’re going to do better then we did last year,” McMillan said. “It’s a close vote.”
The intent of the bill, McMillan said, is to prevent would-be terrorists from obtaining a valid Maryland driver’s license, a national security issue.
A victim and family members of victims from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon, World Trade Center and Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, spoke at a news conference Thursday and testified before the committee on the importance of the bill.
“We’ve already felt the brunt of what can happen when failures happen,” April Gallop said, at the news conference.
Gallop and her 2-and-a-half-month-old son were both at the Pentagon the day of the attacks, and both suffered brain and spinal injuries. Her son is now developmentally disabled.
Judiciary member Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, supports McMillan’s bill, which he said would make Maryland law similar to that of other states. About 27 other states have similar legislation, according to the Department of Legislative Services.
The legislation, Zirkin said, was recommended by the 9/11 Commission, a panel formed to investigate and report on the events surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks.
“It’s not a cure-all,” Zirkin said. “There are very few bills that are.”
Despite impassioned testimony from the victims and families, the hijackers had legal immigration documents, although some committed fraud to get those and several committed fraud to get their licenses, according to the 9/11 Discourse Project, which is run by the 9/11 Commissioners.
“I never bought into the terrorism part,” said Delegate Curtis Anderson, D-Baltimore. “To me, it was just an effort to get a little publicity on a very volatile issue.”
“The department of motor vehicles has things they should be doing,” Anderson said, to address the issue of people getting licenses illegally.
Committee member Carol Petzold, D-Montgomery, also opposes the bills. “Words fail me to tell you how bad they are,” she said.
“Obviously, I oppose it,” said Delegate Ana Sol Guitterez, D-Montgomery, a Judiciary member and an organizer of the news conference. “I think it is bad public policy.”
Although he acknowledged that several of the bills he sponsored were doomed, Delegate Richard Impallaria, R-Baltimore, said he is pleased with the bills’ progress.
Each year the bills have been before the committee, Impallaria said, there is more understanding about the issues behind them.
“Some bills you really don’t put them forward to get them passed,” he said. “You put them forward to get awareness.”
The bill sponsors support legal immigration, he said, but these measures are designed to inhibit illegal immigration.
“We need to pull the welcome mat up that has been laid down by the other side to support people who have come here illegally,” Impallaria said, “When you come here illegally you are opening yourself up to exploitation and it doesn’t do any of us any good.”