Among them is 28-year-old Elmer Gomez, who spoke almost no English when he arrived in this country eight years ago. The Salvadoran native takes classes at night, after his shift at a ball bearings factory. He estimates he'll finish his GED in another two years. Though he now speaks English fluently, he worries that the proposed law could create hardships for others.

In contrast, Adrian Barrera, a crew leader of the migrant workers at Baugher's Farm, says he supports the language proposal.

Barrera, 43, left his father's farm in Hidalgo, Mexico, in the early 1980s to join relatives in Texas. He spoke a little English when he arrived — words he had gleaned from grade-school classes and television — but pored over textbooks in the evenings until he became fluent.

Barrera, who said he became a U.S. citizen through an amnesty program, describes himself as a conservative Republican. And that, he says, is part of what drew him to Carroll County about 20 years ago.

"Whoever comes to this country should prepare," he said. "Everyone should speak English here."

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

julie.scharper@baltimoresun.com

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