Thursday, August 18, 2005

OCEAN CITY — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says most Marylanders would disagree with Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan’s view that local governments should embrace illegal aliens.

“His [view] is divergent from most of the state on that issue,” Mr. Ehrlich told The Washington Times during the summer conference for the Maryland Association of Counties this week.

“Citizenship should mean something,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican. “We are a country of immigrants, but we need to respect our laws, and we have a responsibility to enforce our laws.”

However, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, who also is attending the conference, said he fully agrees with Mr. Duncan. Both Democratic leaders are considered likely challengers to Mr. Ehrlich’s re-election bid next year.

“I believe that diversity is an American value,” Mr. O’Malley said. “Immigrants contribute to our country and way of life.”

Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Duncan “seem much more concerned with people who are not supposed to be in the country than with fellow Americans who are harmed by their presence,” said Steven A. Camarota, research director for the D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.

Illegal aliens compete with citizens for jobs, add to school overcrowding and increase the burden on taxpayers, Mr. Camarota said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Duncan held a press conference in Rockville to discuss his recent trip to El Salvador.

He said the trip affirmed his belief that local officials should sympathize with the plight of illegal aliens and concentrate on providing them with services. Immigration enforcement should be left to federal authorities, he said.

“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,” Mr. Duncan said. “I want us to be an open and welcoming community.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Ehrlich vowed to continue lobbying Congress and the White House for immigration laws “with teeth.”

The governor also said the state must set its own policies to deal with illegal aliens, such as the recently enhanced coordination between Maryland State Police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Mr. Ehrlich has received criticism and praise for his comments about immigration. Last year, he supported Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer’s remarks that immigrants should learn to speak English, saying multiculturalism is “bunk.”

Pro-immigration groups such as CASA of Maryland have faulted Ehrlich policies that crack down on illegal immigration, including cutting state-funded health care for some and imposing stricter document requirements for driver’s license applicants.

A report released in June by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that the number of illegal aliens in the United States has risen from 8.4 million in 2000 to 10.3 million last year.

In Maryland, the number of illegal aliens has more than doubled over the same period, from 120,000 in 2000 to about 250,000 last year, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Citing a review of birth records, Mr. Camarota estimated that about 45,000 illegal aliens reside in Montgomery County.

Estimates for Baltimore were not available.

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