Seasonal workers have been coming to pick crabs on Maryland's Eastern Shore since the 1980s.
Seasonal workers have been coming to pick crabs on Maryland's Eastern Shore since the 1980s. (Baltimore Sun)

It’s not just Washington that is cracking down on immigration. In parts of progressive Maryland, some local leaders are joining in on the Trump administration’s hardline stance.

That’s what recently brought out clashing protesters to Frederick, where local law enforcement regularly aid the federal government on immigration raids, arrests and detainment. While jurisdictions including Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have agreed not to cooperate with the federal government in detaining unauthorized immigrants, Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has long championed his county’s cooperation. He brags that it has helped deport more than 1,500 “criminals” in almost 12 years, and by criminals, he largely means undocumented.

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We’d like to remind Sheriff Jenkins that the vast majority of immigrants — 926,665 in Maryland — and the work they do are assets to the country and encourage him to stop treating them as villains. Such rhetoric only inflames stereotypes and perpetuates a dangerous immigrant narrative.

The real story is that hardworking immigrants help keep the state’s economic engine churning; without them and their labor there would be voids that could hurt many industries.

A 2016 report by the state’s Department of Legislative Services found that Maryland’s economy is “heavily dependent” on immigrant labor, which makes up about 18.5% of our civilian labor force. While many work in service industries and construction, there are also plenty of highly educated immigrants who work in professional fields. Of all the state’s STEM workers, 23.5% are immigrants, according to the New American Economy.

The seafood industry clearly understands the need to welcome our international brethren, as Jeff Barker and Thalia Juarez recently reported in a story about how cuts to the H-2B visa program resulted in a shortage of crab pickers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. There certainly wasn’t an overabundance of American workers available to fill all these jobs that were, if you were to believe the anti-immigrant sect, being unfairly taken by temporary workers, mostly from Mexico, and leaving home grown workers with no job prospects. That meant companies had to make do with fewer workers, which meant less crab picked and sold to grocers and restaurants and ultimately fewer profits as well, which is certainly no boost to the economy.

Here are some other ways in which immigrants contribute to the economy, according to data by the New American Economy. They pay $10.4 billion in taxes, including $3.4 billion in local and state, and have spending power of $26.3 billion. Maryland is home to 176,728 immigrant businesses and 67,204 immigrant entrepreneurs.

We understand concerns about illegal entry into the United States, but we are also sensitive to the plight of those desperate enough to flee their homeland and secretly slip into the country because of violence or political persecution in hopes of a better life here. Deportation shouldn’t be so black and white and automatic, and instead decided case by case. A violent criminal should go. But do we send somebody back who has been living a law-abiding life in the United States for 25 years?

Rather than putting so much focus on enforcement against undocumented immigrants, more resources should be devoted to engaging with those who are here legally and further integrating them into the fabric of the state. After all, most of Maryland’s immigrant population — 71% — is here legally, according to the Pew Research Center.

If humanity isn’t enough of a reason to reach out, consider this: A legislative report found that one-third of children in Maryland have at least one foreign-born parent, and that the future of Maryland will be influenced by the “social development and success” of these children of immigrants.

So helping them, then, in effect helps everyone else.

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