Arundel bill targets illegal immigrants who get public services

Critics call proposal wasteful; Republican Councilman Grasso fears 'safe haven'

July 30, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

An Anne Arundel County councilman plans to introduce legislation as early as Monday night that would require anyone seeking county government services to produce a state identification card or a driver's license, a move that he says would help stem illegal immigration.

Councilman John J. Grasso, who campaigned for his council seat last year on a platform to tackle illegal immigration in the county, said the legislation would prevent the county from becoming a "safe haven." The measure would affect services such as checking out library books.

"I'm going to make Anne Arundel County an undesirable place for illegal immigrants," said Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican.

Anne Arundel County has already earned a reputation to that effect. In 2007, County Executive John R. Leopold signed an executive order preventing the county from doing business with anyone who employs illegal immigrants. In 2008, the county detention center began checking prisoners' immigration status with federal authorities, which has resulted in several deportations. Last year, the county joined the federal "Secure Communities" program, which employs fingerprint identification using federal databases, giving law enforcement officials the ability to quickly identify illegal immigrants.

Kim Propeack, director of community organizing and political action at Casa de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group, said the law would be a waste of county resources.

"The only thing that this proposal would be effective at would be forcing an enormous amount of county resources at doing data checks," said Propeack, who said national research on the subject shows that undocumented immigrants use very few public resources and are "uniformly" barred from qualifying for federal assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid.

"Undocumented immigrants pay much more in taxes than they use in public resources," she said. "He wants librarians doing document checks? It's nuts."

A spokesman for Leopold, a Republican, said the county executive "will certainly review the bill," but declined to comment further.

While discussing the planned legislation, Grasso also criticized Gov. Martin O'Malley, who in 2009 signed legislation passed by the General Assembly requiring state driver's license seekers to provide "documentation of lawful presence."

Grasso said the Democratic governor had not acted fast enough to solve the problem of undocumented immigrants being issued driver's license. Before the bill was enacted, Maryland was one of four states — and the only one east of the Rockies — to issue driver's licenses without requiring proof of an applicant's legal status in the United States.

"Thanks to the speedy efforts of our beautiful governor, who knows how many people were able to get under the radar?" said Grasso.

Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, said in an emailed statement, "The governor has always believed that his top priority is to protect the safety and security of the citizens in Maryland. The governor supported and signed legislation to address this issue. During the terms of prior governors, efforts were made by legislators to address this, but not until Governor O'Malley supported the legislation did it actually pass."

County Councilman Derek Fink, a Republican from Pasadena, said he supports Grasso's efforts.

"I'm pretty supportive of making sure that Anne Arundel County does not become a safe haven for illegal immigrants," said Fink. "I certainly support cracking down on illegal immigration where we have the authority to do so."

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