By DEEPA RAMUDAMU, ALEXANDRA PAMIAS and ELIANA BLOCK
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON — Immigration has been the focus of much debate during this election season and has been one of the animating issues behind the rise of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.
With the Maryland primary ahead Tuesday, Democratic and Republican voters are deeply split over how they view the issue and which candidate they believe is best fit to address it. National polls show GOP voters generally consider illegal immigration to be a more important issue than Democratic voters do.
Self-employed tax accountant Larry Fischel, 64, of Takoma Park, said he voted early for Bernie Sanders at a polling center in Silver Spring.
“We in Takoma Park are very interested in immigration policy,” he said. “We’ve been a leader amongst the nation in allowing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.”
Takoma Park is one of six communities in Maryland that allows non-citizens to vote; other cities include Barnesville, Garrett Park, Glen Echo, Martin’s Additions and Somerset.
Such open-minded generosity towards people from other countries reflects the reality that the international population in Maryland is growing. But not all residents see the shift in a positive light.
Daria Lovejoy, 50, of Silver Spring, said immigration in her neighborhood is what led her to vote for Trump.
“There’s just too many illegal aliens,” she said.
Katie Holland, 64, of a retired resident of Silver Spring, also is supporting Trump.
“I don’t call it immigration, I call it ‘illegal immigration,’” she said. “I don’t have a problem with immigration, I have a problem with people slipping over the border and don’t have to go through the procedure.”
Maryland’s foreign-born population is growing quickly, with the Latino population increasing from 4 percent of the state’s population in 2000 to 9.3 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Around 1 percent of the population in the state identifies as Muslim, according to the American Values Atlas, a project by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute based in D.C.
Trump considers birthright citizenship – granting automatic citizenship to children born in the United States – to be the “biggest magnet for illegal immigration.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz agrees.
“A woman gets pregnant. She’s nine months, she walks across the border, she has the baby in the United States, and we take care of the baby for 85 years? I don’t think so,” Trump said at a September CNN debate.
A study published earlier this month by Monmouth University gauged whether Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s opposition to Trump as the Republican nominee substantially impacted Republicans likely to vote. Five percent said Hogan’s disapproval will impact their vote, while 83 percent indicated his attitude had no impact.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s immigration policy differs from the other two Republican candidates. He believes in securing the border but letting undocumented workers already in the U.S. to stay in the country, giving them a path to legalization but not to citizenship.
“We have 11 and a half million people here,” Kasich said at a South Carolina debate. “It is not going to happen that we’re going to run around and try to drag 11 and a half million people out of their homes.”
Undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship would generate more than 10,000 jobs and more than $792 million for the Maryland economy by 2020, according to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), a non-partisan forecasting firm based in Washington.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supports a comprehensive immigration reform with a path to equal and full citizenship. Both of the democratic candidates’ campaigns have a sharp focus on keeping families together when discussing their plans for immigration.
Last week, Clinton disclosed her plan to open an Office for Immigrant Affairs, a national headquarters that will be dedicated to solving the immigration and refugee crisis.
“When you listen to either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz say the really shameful and offensive things they say, they are also dangerous,” said Clinton at a grassroots event in Baltimore April 10. “When Trumps says ‘let’s bar all Muslims from coming into the United States,’ a country founded on religious liberty. This city (Baltimore) was a beacon of religious liberty.”
Cruz wants to put an end to what he calls “Obama’s illegal amnesty.” Under his presidency, Cruz intends to go after people who overstay their visas, bolster immigration enforcement and nip the 340 sanctuary jurisdictions currently in the U.S.
Sanctuary cities are jurisdictions with policies that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation by refusing to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal immigration agents, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan research organization.
There are three sanctuaries located in Maryland – in Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. More than two-thirds of the state’s Hispanics live in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
Both Cruz and Trump have also spoken out against refugees and resettlement programs.
In a March letter addressed to the Department of State as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, Cruz questioned the process to resettle refugees and said he was concerned that the agencies involved are placing refugees in communities without adequate consultation beforehand.
Trump has called for increasing the standards of admission for refugees and those seeking asylum. He also has called for using the money that would have been spent on refugee programs on American orphans instead, according to his website.
In 2014, 69,975 refugees were admitted into the U.S., just under the 70,000 limit set by the federal government, according to a report by the Office of Immigration Statistics in the Department of Homeland Security.
The same year, 23,533 people were granted asylum. While refugees apply to enter the United States while living abroad, asylees apply after they have entered the country, according to the report.
In Maryland, there are two resettlement centers, located in Baltimore and Silver Spring. Within each center is the International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid organization.
Once refugees arrives in the United States, the IRC picks them up, provides a furnished apartments and connects them with services to become economically self-sufficient within six months, said Ruben Chandrasekar, executive director of the IRC offices in Maryland.
When the Baltimore IRC office was founded in 1999, the first refugees it helped resettle were Bosnians escaping ethnic cleansing. Since then, the office has resettled approximately 11,000 refugees, including Africans, Burmese and Bhutanese people, Afghans, Iraqis and now Syrians, Chandrasekar said.
Eight percent of voters believe immigration/illegal aliens is the most important issue in the election, according to a Gallup Poll conducted between April 6 and 10.