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Immigration politics

The Baltimore Sun

If Casa de Maryland gave awards for top public servants, Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold would not head its list. Mr. Leopold has been outspoken about illegal immigration and out front on initiatives to deter employment of undocumented workers. But local officials such as Mr. Leopold can't solve the nation's immigration problem. And their tough words may do more harm than good by stoking anti-immigrant feelings.

After this week's federal immigration raid on an Annapolis painting contractor, Mr. Leopold was quick to criticize companies that hire illegal immigrants, saying they had an unfair advantage over other businesses: "Illegal means illegal." But the owner of the painting business hasn't been arrested, let alone convicted.

Mr. Leopold's comments play well in this conservative county, but they do a disservice to residents who may be unfairly targeted because of their ethnicity. His rush to judgment rouses less kind emotions.

Mr. Leopold says his even-handed approach to immigration helps those who play by the rules and is tough with those who don't. Providing $14,000 in county funds to an organization that helps legal immigrants navigate the citizenship bureaucracy will have benefits. But his decision to refuse grant money to a group that couldn't identify the citizenship status of its clients will likely drive those immigrants further into the shadows.

The Annapolis raid was part of the Bush administration's stepped-up enforcement at workplaces. But these raids aren't the answer to the estimated 11 million people who live here illegally. The country can't arrest its way out of this problem. And local efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants have more political impact than practical effect. This is a national problem that demands a comprehensive federal solution.

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