Delegates target illegal immigrants

2 GOP

Legislation is deemed xenophobic by opponents

January 25, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

At a time when President Bush and leaders of the state Republican Party are making aggressive efforts to reach out to immigrant populations, two GOP delegates are steering a different course.

Baltimore County's Richard K. Impallaria and Patrick L. McDonough are drawing criticism for a legislative package they've introduced seeking to crack down on illegal immigrants in Maryland.

"We know we're going to be labeled," said McDonough. "We also know that 85 percent of the American people are in our corner."

Some of the labels opponents have used: xenophobic, politically opportunistic, cruel, rude.

But the lawmakers are unfazed and have chosen undocumented immigrants, for whom they insist on using the politically incorrect term "illegal aliens," as their signature issue in the second year of their terms.

Impallaria and McDonough are the lead sponsors of five of the six bills introduced in the House this year seeking to get tough on illegal immigration -- a topic seldom raised as a state issue until the last two years.

Along with fellow Republicans J. B. Jennings of Baltimore County and Herbert H. McMillan of Anne Arundel County, they are the leaders of a small band of lawmakers who see illegal immigration as a threat that needs to be addressed at both the state and federal levels.

The legislation they have introduced -- and more is to come -- is gaining them considerable attention. Much of the response has been highly critical, but the two seem to be reveling in the attention -- whether positive or negative.

The two say they have nothing against foreigners or immigration -- just those who enter the country illegally.

"They become a subculture that is continually ducking and dodging the law of the state of Maryland," said Impallaria.

Last week, he and McDonough held a news conference with the widow of a Baltimore County police sergeant who was killed in 2001 when his car collided with a vehicle driven by a drunken driver who was in the country illegally.

The lawmakers announced that they were naming their legislation forbidding people to lend their cars to illegal immigrants after Sgt. Mark F. Parry of Bel Air. The legislation would provide penalties for owners who do so knowingly, including confiscation of the vehicle and a year's suspension of driving privileges.

Other bills Impallaria and McDonough have sponsored would require local law enforcement officers to turn over any person they find in the country illegally to federal authorities. In addition to a statewide version of the legislation, they have introduced local bills that apply only to the counties they represent, Baltimore and Harford.

Another of their bills would forbid state and local governments to accept cards issued by foreign consulates as sole proof of identity. The two are also co-sponsors of McMillan's bill prohibiting the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

Hispanic groups and advocates for immigrants are appalled by the flurry of bills targeting the undocumented.

Kevin Slayton, public policy director for the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center, said the delegates' use of the term "illegal aliens" in the title of some of the bills was especially offensive.

"It's almost like name-calling," Slayton said. "It's rather cruel and rude. It sets the wrong tone for this session."

Kim Propeack, Annapolis lobbyist for the Hispanic group Casa of Maryland Inc., said the bills show a "clear xenophobia" on the part of their authors.

Propeack said the bills requiring law enforcement to turn over any illegal immigrants they find to federal authorities have been opposed by police because they get in the way of their crime-fighting mission.

"It would drive a stake through the heart of police relations with immigrant communities," she said. "People will not come forward as victims. They will not come forward as witnesses. They will not participate in criminal prosecutions."

Ricardo Flores, board president of the Maryland Latino Coalition for Justice, decried the bill that would forbid lending vehicles to illegal immigrants as harsh, unfair and harassing. He said the circumstances under which people lend their cars to undocumented workers include medical and family emergencies.

Flores said that when Republican legislators push such legislation, they undermine their party's efforts to reach out to Hispanic voters. "There are Latinos trying to make a decision about which party to support, and legislation like this obviously drives them to the Democratic Party," he said.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s press office declined to comment on the bills, saying he hadn't seen them.

But John M. Kane, Ehrlich's hand-picked state Republican chairman, distanced the party from the delegates' approach and praised Bush's recent initiative to make it easier for undocumented workers to legalize their immigration status.

"Rather than curse the darkness, we should light the candle, and the candle in this case is to lower the barriers to legal citizenship," he said.

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