- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — A group of legal immigrants told state lawmakers yesterday that voting for anti-immigration bills would cost them votes.

The group, known as the Friends of New Marylanders, includes about 25 African, Asian and Hispanic organizations that lobby against legislation targeting illegal aliens. Members say census data show that naturalized citizens make up about 4 percent of Maryland voters.

“We are immigrants, and we vote,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland, which is part of the group. “We want to send the message very clearly that we are going to vote against these anti-immigrant legislators who are attacking our communities.”

The members primarily are concerned about legislation sponsored by Delegate Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican, that would make English the official language of the Maryland government and force day-laborer centers to check immigration status. They also oppose bills that would revoke the licenses of businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens and would bar illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses.

Mr. McDonough said his bills are intended to help legal immigrants by protecting state services that illegal aliens are draining. The bills were discussed in hearings yesterday.

“These are what I call pro-immigration bills [because] they would affect legal immigrants in a positive way,” he said. “If you eliminate the lawbreakers, there would be more services as far as English teachers and at day-laborer centers.”

Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany Democrat, is co-sponsoring the official-language bill that would mandate that documents printed in a foreign language also include an English version. He said U.S. immigrants should be encouraged to speak English and to assimilate.

“The common bond of this country is communication, [so] it is in the best interests of the immigrants and their children,” Mr. Kelly said. “They will excel in school and in their workplace opportunities.”

He acknowledged that “multilingualism” creates advantages, but said the primary language of those in the United States must be English.

“It’s absolutely critical that you be able to speak English in this country,” Mr. Kelly said. “If you don’t, doors will be closed to you.”

Critics who assembled at the House building said an English-only bill would eliminate language services for newly arrived legal immigrants “who need them the most.”

“Every immigrant knows that to get ahead and be successful, we need to learn English,” said Delegate Susan C. Lee, Montgomery County Democrat and one of several lawmakers who joined the immigrant voters. “But we don’t need the state to pass laws that are really under the jurisdiction of the federal government.”

Though lawmakers say the bills are meant to crack down on the state’s estimated 250,000 illegal aliens, Chung Pak, chairman of the League of Korean Americans, said the bills would affect legal immigrants because they may lead to ethnic profiling.

“A number of these bills do not distinguish between legal versus illegal or even U.S. citizen versus legal resident,” he said. “We feel strongly that [these bills] will promote discrimination against people who don’t speak English very well or who just happen to have immigrant features. Businesses will shy away from hiring people who look like they might be undocumented.”

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