Blaine Young, president of Frederick County's board of commissioners, has plans to make Frederick "the most unfriendly county in the state of Maryland to illegal aliens." And while he said some localities might cringe at such a title, "we wear that with a badge of honor."
County officials — motivated by a high-profile murder charge against an alleged illegal immigrant — are attempting to craft sweeping legislation to prohibit undocumented workers from getting jobs and renting homes. The move builds on Sheriff Charles A. "Chuck" Jenkins' efforts in delivering nearly 1,000 illegal immigrants to federal authorizes for deportation in the past three years.
Debate over the measure is playing out amid political and legal battles over immigration crackdowns in Arizona and Alabama, and after several localities around the nation drew attention by writing their own legislation. The issue has proved controversial in Frederick, with opponents — including Young's father, a state senator — questioning whether immigration concerns can be addressed effectively on a local level.
"We always have and always will need immigrants," said Sen. Ronald N. Young, a Democrat. "We need to have immigration reform … [but] it ought to occur in Washington."
Blaine Young, a Republican, said he's not going to wait for the nation's leaders to make meaningful immigration reforms. "We are going to do everything legally possible," he said. Though the county has no estimate of how many illegal immigrants live within its boundaries, proponents say even a dollar spent on providing them with services is too much.
The issue has resonated with many voters locally, as immigration reform was central to several of the commissioners' campaigns in last year's election. It has also given politicians like Blaine Young and Jenkins a chance to weigh in on a statewide and national debate — Jenkins has been mentioned as a possible congressional candidate.
The proposal before the County Commissioners would make English the official county language, ban day laborer sites, prohibit landlords from renting to illegal immigrants, and require businesses to verify that their employees are allowed to work in the U.S.
Immigration issues can be appealing for politicians because they provide a target for blame, and there's "no downside because you are targeting a group that can't vote," said Todd Eberly, the coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary's College.
Eberly pointed to the statewide petition drive this year that gathered more than 100,000 signatures to successfully delay a new law giving college tuition breaks to illegal immigrants. That law will go before voters next November.
The issue of immigration "resonates with people," Eberly said.
And because there's no indication that the economy will improve soon, and the number of immigrants coming to Maryland increased in the latest Census data, he said anti-immigration sentiment shows "potentially a winning message."
Sen. Ronald Young said the county proposals could be politically driven. "It has a positive political effect for [the Board] here in the county. It would have a positive effect statewide in the Republican party, but I don't know about statewide" as a whole, he said.
Blaine Young would not say whether he had plans to run for higher office, saying that he's focused on his job in Frederick County. The Office of the County Attorney is reviewing the proposals, and it will take several months before the board will vote on any legislation, Young said.
The commissioners have also sought to get county schools to report the number of students illegally living in the country to authorities. Young said the count would not keep anyone from an education, but would be used merely as a tool to count how many undocumented residents attend county schools.
For some of those pushing the tough new law, a local slaying has become a rallying point. An immigrant from El Salvador, who was previously deported after being charged with another crime, faces murder charges in the death of a Burger King restaurant manager in March — an incident that Young says has added urgency to the movement.
"We've been dealing with a lot of initiatives for months," he said, but "what happened at Burger King really hit home."
As county officials work to find ways to deter illegal immigrants, the sheriff's department continues to turn them over to federal authorities. Frederick County is the only place in Maryland — and one of 69 jurisdictions in 24 states — to enter into the 287(g) program, which allows deputies to search federal databases and do other research to determine a detainee's immigration status.
The program has proved effective in handing over illegal immigrants to federal authorities. But the program — and the sheriff who promoted it — have come under fire, after a federal lawsuit was filed by a woman who said she was arrested for no reason. Roxana Orellana Santos alleges that while she was eating lunch on a curb near her car in Oct. 2008, she was confronted and detained by county sheriff's deputies and then jailed for more than a month.
The Frederick County Chamber of Commerce released a statement saying it would like to know more about the commissioners' proposals, but it encourages businesses to use E-Verify, a federal immigration status system used in several states.
Glen Charles, vice president of business operations for Wycliffe Enterprises, an area contracting firm, said it began using E-Verify less than a month ago, after several contracts required it.
The process takes time, he says, but there are some benefits. Employers can determine "the employees that you have are who they say they are. It gives you confidence as an employer."
Del. Kathryn L. Afzali, a Republican who represents Frederick County, said she understands why the commissioners felt the need to look at immigration legislation now.
"At this point, what our commissioners are saying is that 'we can't afford the costs,'" associated with additional county services, such as social services for undocumented workers, she said.
The proposals are in direct response to local problems, she said, noting that a lot of people are looking for jobs, especially in construction, which can also attract illegal immigrants. She said the rental measure is a response to complaints about residences with multiple families causing noise, parking problems and other issues.
Kim Propeack, political director of Casa de Maryland, said the language measure seemed only "a purely decorative move" since federal and state guidelines require government literature to be written in additional languages. She also questioned the measure that would prohibit illegal immigrants from renting, saying it would be difficult and potentially dangerous to give landlords that power.
"Most economic studies show immigrants as part of vibrant economies," contributing to wealth, rather than taking jobs, Propeack said.
Beginning in the mid-2000s, a number of municipalities began proposing similar legislation, said Jonathan Blazer, a staff attorney and project manager with the National Immigration Law Center.
"I think it was the economy but also people had begun to lose faith in Congress to reform immigration laws," he said. "Localities decided to act on their own. In some cases, they were localities that had experienced a demographic change," resulting in discomfort and triggering the new legislation.
He said many local governments proposing such measures have backed off to allow the courts to settle questions about similar laws before spending money to defend their own.
And even when legislation fails to be adopted, Blazer said, localities "can send a message of hostility," thereby achieving their goal. Since Arizona's legislation was passed and challenged in court — it broadened police powers to question someone's immigration status — an estimated 200,000 Latinos have left the state.