This article on anti-immigration sentiment in Maryland incorrectly said that dozens of people spoke out against expanding Mount Rainier's sanctuary law at a Feb. 19 meeting. There were fewer speakers than the word "dozens" would imply, and the majority spoke in favor of the proposed expansion.
Anti-Immigrant Effort Takes Hold in Md.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Of all the communities in Prince George's County, tiny Mount Rainier seemed a fitting place to pass a broad sanctuary law for illegal immigrants. After all, the ethnically diverse city of 9,000 already prohibits its police force from enforcing federal immigration laws and inquiring about a person's citizenship status.
But when the five-member City Council sat down to consider sanctuary status, dozens of angry speakers from Mount Rainier and beyond crowded into public hearings to oppose the measure. The debate not only split neighbors but drew activists from across the state who are concerned about illegal immigration.
This week, the council tabled the resolution, citing the divisiveness. "I think it's pretty much dead," said council member Jimmy Tarlau, who lobbied for the proposal.
Maryland's nascent movement against illegal immigration, which began with protests over a day-laborer center in Gaithersburg, is moving beyond Montgomery County as advocates reach out more broadly, to African Americans and other groups and to rural counties.
"I have nothing against anyone who wants to come to America, but don't expect us to open our arms if you are not willing to do what it takes to become a citizen," said Natalie McKinney, a newly minted activist who hands out leaflets at her gym in Waldorf, at crowded bus stops and at a farmer's market in La Plata.
McKinney's message is new not only to Charles County, where she heads a fledgling chapter of Help Save Maryland, a group that opposes illegal immigration. It is also new to Maryland's African American community, which until now had been largely silent on the issue or had found common cause with the struggle of Latino immigrants.
In contrast with Virginia, where a fast-growing movement against illegal immigrants has prompted several counties in the past year to call for restricting services, Maryland has appeared more welcoming toward its Latino populace, now estimated at more than 500,000, including tens of thousands of illegal immigrants.
The core of Maryland's small movement against illegal immigration has been in suburban Montgomery, where members began organizing last year to oppose a day-laborer center in Gaithersburg that helps Latino immigrants find jobs regardless of their legal status.
Until recently, the groups were considered a fringe minority in a state with a tradition of liberal politics. Civil rights groups, labor unions and black church leaders across Maryland have embraced the immigrant cause as an echo of their own struggles.
"There are some who want to create a schism between African Americans and Latinos, but we need more black-brown coalitions. In one way or another, we are all immigrants," said the Rev. Jamila Wood Jones, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor in La Plata. "This is a land of opportunity, not a place where we want to make criminals out of people who come to make a better life for their families."
Recently, a group of Maryland lawmakers with family ties to a dozen countries launched a pro-immigrant committee called the New Americans Caucus, which they said was aimed at keeping national anti-immigrant sentiment out of Maryland politics and at fighting legislative proposals that target illegal immigrants.
In recent months, however, the movement against illegal immigration has gained altitude across the state, with groups such as Help Save Maryland recruiting members and forming chapters.