Frederick Co. gets a reputation for mean

A smart, progressive event gets under way in Frederick County in about a week — a farm-to-fork promotion in 13 restaurants there. Starting Aug. 23, the participating establishments will offer home-grown food and wine; they'll buy enough products from county farmers and vintners to make their menus 60 percent local.

That's an oh-so-trendy concept and at the same time old-fashioned, a throwback to the days when chefs bought their meats and produce out the back door. Farm-to-Fork Frederick gets chefs acquainted with local farmers, and it challenges locavores to put their money where their mouths have been — demanding regionalization of the food supply.

So people who want to see more local (and organic) produce, fish and meats on the menus of their favorite restaurants ought to get out to Frederick between Aug. 23 and Labor Day to support the effort.

That is, of course, unless you have a problem with Frederick County — or, to be more exact, with the people who run Frederick County, the Board of County Commissioners and the sheriff. The president of the commissioners, Blaine Young, has boasted that Frederick is the Maryland county "most unfriendly to illegal aliens."

That's not something the Chamber of Commerce would put on welcome signs, but it's starting to stick. It's an official message of resistance to the changing demographics of Maryland and the country at large.

Most of us realize that the immigration system needs fixing, but we've taken a live-and-let-live approach to the millions of people who are in the country without citizenship or the proper papers. We don't go out of our way to disrupt their lives. In fact, we've supported modest measures to make life a little easier for them. Even in Frederick County last year, 55,805 citizens voted to allow undocumented immigrants to attend Maryland colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates. (Only 588 more rejected the Dream Act.)

On the other hand, Young and his fellow commissioners have considered barring immigrants from receiving any county services, including public education, and they proposed prohibiting the printing of county documents in any language other than English. That's all part of their mean, stay-away-from-here message.

Most importantly, the county sheriff's department takes part in a federal program that gives local authorities a role in immigration enforcement. No other police or sheriff's department in the state opted into the program. Only in Frederick does the sheriff relish the opportunity to nab people in the country illegally, many of whom are employed — some of them, it's probably safe to say, on local farms and orchards and in restaurants.

One of them was dishwasher Roxana Santos, from El Salvador.

In October 2008, she was eating a sandwich outside her workplace in Frederick, the Common Market food co-op. By now, the story is well known far beyond the county: Sheriff's deputies approached and questioned her — for no reason other than, I guess, her being foreign-looking — and detained her for more than a month. Why? Because they learned that federal immigration authorities had an outstanding warrant for her — not a criminal warrant, but a civil one. Santos was apparently in the country without the proper permit.

"She was held overnight at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center before being transferred to the Baltimore City Detention Center," said her attorney, Jose Perez. "She was transferred again several days later to the Dorchester County Jail in Cambridge until Nov. 11."

Federal officials exercised some discretion and granted Santos supervised release for humanitarian reasons. "She was the primary caregiver of her then 1-year-old U.S. citizen son," explained Perez. "During Roxanna's incarceration, the child was cared for by his father — Roxana's then-partner of several years and now her husband — assisted by family and friends since the partner was working full-time."

Last week, a federal appeals court said the county deputies had no business seizing this woman, and her discrimination lawsuit could end up costing the county some coin. Of course, no one knows for sure if she'll be awarded damages or, if so, how much. But, whatever the county has to pay, it will go on the ledger as the price of being the Maryland county "most unfriendly to illegal aliens."

There's another price that everyone in Frederick County, from the politicians to the chefs to the farmers, ought to be aware of, and that's harm to reputation. Your county — with its lovely rolling hills and farmland, its historic sites, its destination dining — has gained a reputation for being mean. And there are many of us who do not support mean, and we don't care how good the service is.

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