New law may push illegal immigrants to Maryland

October 24, 2007|By Capital News Service

WASHINGTON -- A resolution passed in Virginia's Prince William County last week to crack down on illegal immigrants might bring a mass relocation to welcoming states like Maryland, experts said.

The law bars illegal immigrants from obtaining business licenses or using services for the homeless, elderly and drug-addicted. In addition, police must check suspects' status if there is reason to believe they are here illegally.

Full funding for the law has not yet been approved, so the effective date of the legislation has been delayed. Still, publicity about the law and its future enforcement might be enough to prompt some to uproot.

"They're absolutely coming. Some of the police officers in my district have said they've seen an increase in Virginia license plates driving around," said Will Campos, a Prince George's County Council member. "It doesn't mean they're moving here, but they're browsing."

Campos attributed Prince George's tolerance of immigrants to its population, of which African-Americans are a majority. "I believe we're a little more progressive in thinking and a little more open to immigration," he said.

Maryland is not the most permissive state when it comes to immigration, said immigration expert William Hanna, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. But it "is probably in the top half of states in the United States that have been more receptive."

"Some people will obviously be inclined to move to places where they won't be harassed," Hanna said.

Maryland has generally been more relaxed about illegal immigration than Virginia. For example, it is one of only nine states that doesn't check immigration status before issuing a driver's license.

"We have a growing immigrant community in Maryland that's made its economy No. 1," said Del. Victor R. Ramirez, a Prince George's Democrat. The economy could draw people to Maryland, he said.

"You're going to start to see folks [in Prince William County] spending their money somewhere else," he said. "It's not just about illegal immigrants, it's about legal immigrants. Why invest money in a county that preaches, to a certain extent, hate?"

Ramirez proposed legislation in January to grant illegal immigrants in-state tuition for public colleges and universities. The bill received initial support, but has been shelved since the General Assembly recessed in April.

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