Frederick Co. steps back from English-only

April 26, 2008|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Frederick County commissioners have backed off a proposal to require all county documents to be written in English only.

Instead, commissioners voted 4-1 on Thursday in favor of a resolution proclaiming English as the county's primary language of communication. The measure is largely symbolic and carries none of the weight of the proposed English-only ordinance.

The issue reflects intense debate over immigration in the county, which has the fastest-growing immigrant population in Maryland. In the fall, Commissioner Charles A. Jenkins proposed a law that would deny county services, including schooling, to immigrants who entered the country illegally. The measure failed.

Jenkins was the only commissioner to vote against the resolution, calling it "a watered-down, meaningless gesture."

"English-only is important to a lot of folks in Frederick County, who see a death by paper cut with the failure at the federal level to deal with issues related to immigration," he said.

Commission President Jan H. Gardner said requiring English-only is bad public policy. She said she drafted the resolution to "make a positive statement that we support English."

The English-only ordinance would have prevented the county Health Department from distributing bilingual notices in the event of a health emergency such as avian flu, Gardner said.

"It is our common language that unifies us, and everyone should learn English if you want to participate in our community," she said. "But English-only creates lots of challenges."

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

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