July 8, 2010

Illegal immigrants don’t drain resources, League of Women Voters says, but others disagree

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By Barbara Pash
For MarylandReporter.com

A letter to the editor in a local newspaper charging that illegal immigrants took jobs from local citizens and burdened county taxpayers with the cost of their education, health care and social services spurred Anne Nelson to action.

Nelson, co-president of the Anne Arundel County League of Women Voters, formed a committee in the league to get to the bottom of these often-heard charges.

In May, that committee released its report on the impact of immigration on Anne Arundel County. The report adds the league’s voice to a topic that, in the Maryland legislature, has resulted in contentious fights over driver’s licenses, in-state tuition, and worker’s compensation to illegal immigrants.

Myrna Siegel, Nelson’s co-president of the Anne Arundel County League of Women Voters and a committee-member, said the national League of Women Voters has a policy on immigration that the local leagues helped to formulate. The county league followed its precepts but incorporated measures that were specific to Anne Arundel County.

“We don’t have a lot of projects like this,” Siegel said of the report. “But we felt it was important to do it.”

Path toward citizenship

According to the report, the League of Women Voters supports a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants, and does not advocate deporting those who are not criminals.

As the league report notes, few issues in the debate over immigration reform are as controversial as the fiscal impact of illegals in the communities in which they live. The Anne Arundel County League of Women Voters’ report came to the following conclusions:

Illegal immigrants are not a threat to the local labor force since they take the less desirable, lower-paying jobs. Most are paid minimum wage and they do not get benefits. Illegal immigrants have opened a number of new businesses that benefit the local economy.

Illegal immigrants pay their share of taxes in the form of property, auto, sales, tobacco, alcohol and utility taxes. The report found that they “are not heavily subsidized by the native-born population.” Groups such as Help Save Maryland, which opposes illegal immigration and want stricter enforcement of immigration laws, say the league conclusions are bogus.

Except for public education, which federal law mandates must be available to all regardless of status, most county services are only available to legal immigrants. (The county spends over half its $1.2 billion budget on education.)

In fact, Nelson commented, illegal immigrants in Anne Arundel County “don’t apply for the benefits that are available to them. They’re afraid. They don’t want to draw attention to themselves.”

While the report surveyed both legal and illegal immigrants, its recommendations for an “action plan” mainly address the conditions of the latter group.  The plan calls for:

A path to citizenship; humane treatment by local and county police in apprehending and investigating immigrants; enlisting Spanish-speaking adults as mentors for immigrants; access to low-income housing, health care and welfare services; enlarging and actively promoting the participation of middle school students in after-school and summer activities.

In-county resident tuition at Anne Arundel County Community College for any graduate of an Anne Arundel County high school who meets the admission requirements.

Formation of a Council for Immigrant Services, with public agencies and private businesses, to reinforce the report’s recommendations.

Immigrant numbers

The league report focused its study of immigrants on Hispanics/Latinos, the largest group of foreign-born residents in both Anne Arundel County and Annapolis. Citing census figures from 2006-2008, the report stated that they account for 4.2% (21,522) of the county’s population of 512,429 and 11.6% (3,965) of Annapolis’ population of 34,181.

The report did not specify the number of illegal versus illegal immigrants. However, it did note that Anne Arundel County and Annapolis are magnets for Hispanic/Latino immigrants because of the many job opportunities in the area, especially in local hospitals, health care facilities, and the tourism industry.

According to the report, the number of Hispanic/Latino residents of Maryland is estimated at 6.3 percent (353,956) of the state’s population of 5.6 million. Some idea of how many are illegal aliens might be gleaned from two recent studies.

A 2005 study estimated that approximately 250,000 were “unauthorized” Hispanic migrants. Another study, in 2007, put the number of illegal aliens at 268,000. Both of these studies are cited in the 2008 Department of Legislative Services report to the General Assembly on “International Immigration: Impact on Maryland Communities”

The 2009 report of the Maryland Council for New Americans, created by Gov. Martin O’Malley, concluded that “the economy as a whole gains from immigration.”

Others disagree

Not everyone shares that belief.

“I dispute [the league] report that illegal aliens pay taxes. That’s bogus,” said Brad Botwin, founder and director of Help Save Maryland, a non-partisan group that claims 2,000 members state-wide.

Help Save Maryland is affiliated with the national Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has been conducting a state-by-state analysis of illegal aliens in the country. FAIR’s 2009 report for Maryland figures the estimated 250,000 illegals — 11th highest among the states — cost Maryland $1.4 billion per year for education, medical care and incarceration. Botwin says Anne Arundel County spends $126 million per year on these items.

However, FAIR does note that Maryland is a particularly attractive destination for illegal aliens because of its driver’s license policies and locally-sanctioned hiring sites for day laborers.

“Maryland has become a sanctuary,” said Botwin, who is opposed to amnesty.

Since the league released its own report, it sought to implement the recommendations dealing with children. The league is working with the Anne Arundel County Board of Education on its after-school programs, and with the local police on their Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs.

Nelson said that the league will use the report to advocate for changes in Annapolis City and Anne Arundel County governments, and in the state through the county’s legislators in the upcoming General Assembly.

“Generally, our lobbying has been sporadic and not well organized,” said Nelson. “In this case, we have formed a committee” to share the findings with lawmakers.