ANNAPOLIS – Frederick County commissioners voted 3-2 to reject a proposal Tuesday to refuse public services like education to illegal immigrants, capping two months of “divisive, contentious” debate over immigration in the county.
Commissioners did unanimously call on Congress to better enforce current immigration laws and create more comprehensive solutions for this issue, and asked the state legislature to request a national constitutional convention on illegal immigration.
“We need to move forward in a more productive manner,” Commission President Jan Gardner said after the meeting. “At the end of the day, we’re taking action that seeks to have the federal government address national immigration policy.”
But Commissioner Charles Jenkins, who in August first proposed cutting off services to illegal immigrants, called Tuesday’s resolutions “meaningless” and said the commission missed an opportunity to provoke state and federal leaders into action.
“I really wanted to ratchet up the noise” on immigration, said Jenkins, who added he was not surprised by Tuesday’s vote.
“I don’t think Annapolis is really cognizant of” how illegal immigration “affects local budgets,” he said.
The Frederick debate followed passage this summer of legislation similar to Jenkins’ in Virginia’s Prince William and Loudoun counties. It comes as Frederick County experienced a 250 percent increase in foreign-born residents between 2000 and 2006, according to the Census Bureau.
Gardner said Jenkins’ proposal would have broken federal law: She said the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that illegal immigrants cannot be denied a public education.
She added that most immigrants come to the United States to work, and would not be persuaded to leave if their children were denied a public education.
“We shouldn’t be targeting children as a solution for a problem” the federal government should solve, Gardner said.
Jenkins responded that it is “always easy to hide behind children.” Frederick County needs “to show local leadership” to make up for the federal government’s failure to address the problem, he said.
If the county “continues to make things easy” for illegal immigrants, “why would anyone’s behavior any change?” Jenkins asked.
Because the county does not have home rule, Frederick’s members in the General Assembly would have had to introduce legislation next session to put Jenkins measure into effect. Even Jenkins admitted that such a bill would have virtually no chance of passing in Annapolis.
“I always knew it was a very long shot,” he said.
But Jenkins said he was happy to bring the issue back to the forefront.
“I don’t think we’ve gone far enough,” he said. But “I do think we’ve joined the chorus” of communities “that are trying to cope with this issue.”
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