- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said yesterday his recent trip to El Salvador affirmed his belief that local government should embrace illegal aliens and leave immigration enforcement to federal authorities.

“We have to find ways to show compassion, not to split up families [and] not to send back half a million Salvadorans to a country that is just trying to create jobs for their current population,” he said.

Mr. Duncan also said the trip — a four-day junket for him and three aides that cost county taxpayers about $8,000 — convinced him that the way to stem illegal immigration is to foster economic development in the Americas so people have a reason to stay in their home country.

The visit with such Salvadoran officials as President Elias Antonio Saca also gave Mr. Duncan ideas for tackling Montgomery County’s increasing gang problem, such as finding more money for rehabilitation programs for former gang members.

Critics of Mr. Duncan, who is eyeing the Democratic nomination for governor next year, say he has attempted to win over Hispanic voters by encouraging illegal aliens to settle in Montgomery County.

“Mr. Duncan has much stronger sympathy for people who are not even supposed to be in the country than for his fellow Americans who face tougher job competition from illegals, who have to send their kids to overcrowded schools or generally have to pay higher taxes because of illegal immigration,” said Steven Camarota, director of research for the D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.

Based on birth records, Mr. Camarota estimates that as many as 45,000 illegal aliens live in the county — about half of the roughly 100,000 in Maryland.

The Salvadorans’ population alone in Montgomery County tripled in the past three years to about 65,000, said county officials, who did not know how many were there illegally.

Immigration researchers put the total number of illegal aliens in the United States at 10 million to 12 million.

Mr. Duncan said most immigrants are here legally and local government should concentrate on providing services to residents, not scrutinizing some ethnic groups for immigration violations or involvement in terrorism.

“I want us to be an open and welcoming community,” he said. “The federal government needs to enforce immigration laws. … Frankly, they have not been doing it.”

Mr. Duncan said that as a county executive, and possibly as governor, he would back federal measures to address illegal immigration. He supports immigration reform proposed by U.S. Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

Their bill would create a multistep path to citizenship for illegal aliens, invite more foreign workers into the country and encourage Mexico to better police its border with the United States. The plan has been criticized for rewarding illegal aliens with citizenship.

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