By Abby Rogers
Del. Anthony O’Donnell has sponsored a bill that requires adults to provide proof of U.S. citizenship before they are eligible to receive certain public benefits as a way to stop illegal immigrants from taking advantage of taxpayer-funded services.
While illegal immigrants would still receive emergency care, prenatal care and immunizations, they would not be able to receive long-term health benefits, retirement or welfare benefits, among others, unless they were able to provide necessary documentation. According to the bill, the necessary documentation includes:
- a valid Maryland driver’s license
- a United States military ID or military dependent’s ID
- a U.S. merchant marine I.D.
- a Native American tribal document
O’Donnell, R-St. Mary’s, said Tuesday at a House Appropriations Committee meeting that his bill addresses what he sees as a failure to act on the part of the federal government.
“It’s sad that the federal government has not addressed this issue, I believe, because they put an undue burden on the states to deal with it alone, and yet they claim that we’re not allowed to deal with it alone,” he said.
O’Donnell was the only one to speak before the committee in favor of his bill. Much of the opposition to the bill focused on the restrictive nature of the required documents list.
Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, asked O’Donnell if he would consider expanding the list of documents that one could use to apply for benefits, pointing out that the current version of the bill doesn’t allow residents to use birth certificates as proof of citizenship when applying for benefits.
The Vietnamese Mutual Association said O’Donnell’s proposed list of acceptable documents was restrictive, association representative Van Doan said at the meeting. Some of the association’s clients, even though they legally reside in the country and are naturalized citizens, would never qualify for benefits using O’Donnell’s list of documents since they only have Social Security cards, Doan said. This arrangement seems “quite unlawful” since her clients can work as “lawful citizens,” she said.
O’Donnell said he was open to suggestions for improving the list, as long as those suggestions weren’t aimed at killing the bill or subverting its intent.
Some opponents stated O’Donnell’s bill was too similar to federal law, since federal law already has a list of acceptable documents and legislates medical benefits.
“It’s largely a solution that’s searching for a problem,” Louis Brown, the associate director for social concerns for the Maryland Catholic Conference said. “The legislation largely is superfluous.”
O’Donnell has introduced similar bills three times in the past, all three of which received unfavorable reports from the Appropriations Committee.
Referendum on taxes, spending
The Appropriations Committee also heard testimony about a bill proposed by Del. Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil, that would allow Marylanders to petition to modify or abolish proposed taxes or expenditures they disagree with.
Smigiel’s bill, which has been proposed twice in the past, is in the process of being amended to only apply to future taxes and spending. Maryland residents would not be able to challenge existing taxes.
“There’s no reason we should fear the citizens of Maryland being informed, and coming in and being able to participate in their government by deciding whether or not there is a tax that they did not wish to have put upon them or an expenditure which they did not wish to see take place,” Smigiel said at the meeting.
Del. Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, questioned how many times a statewide referendum petition had been successfully completed in Maryland. “Not many,” Smigiel answered.