Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Minutemen in Maryland

After waging a high-profile fight in Northern Virginia against a center where employers can go to hire temporary workers, the anti-illegal immigration group has expanded into Maryland. In recent weeks, its members have patrolled centers funded by the Montgomery County government in Wheaton and Takoma Park that assist day laborers. They also have monitored a Gaithersburg parking lot as well as others in Montgomery and Prince George's County where men gather almost every morning, said Stephen Schreiman, director of the group's new chapter.

"The objective here is to send a clear message to the business community that it's illegal to hire undocumented workers and it's illegal not to pay appropriate taxes," said Schreiman, who couldn't specifically say how many people had joined the new chapter.

The group said it has recruited dozens of volunteers who plan to photograph laborers and the people seeking to hire them at centers in Silver Spring and Baltimore. Typically, three to six people take pictures at each site on any morning, Schreiman said. Day-laborer centers provide jobs for illegal immigrants and should not be funded by a county government, the group says.

But advocates for immigrants say the sole purpose is intimidation.

"The good news is that these Minutemen are yet another in the long line of radical fringe groups that will die of their own weight in Montgomery County because they don't speak for Montgomery County," said County Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring). About 40 percent of the county's 930,000 residents are foreign born.

The Minuteman Project began attracting national attention when members initiated civilian patrols of the Mexican border in an effort to inhibit border crossings. The opening of a day-laborer center in Herndon last year galvanized the group and its opponents in Northern Virginia.

Montgomery has become a battleground in the debate because of its efforts to expand services to immigrants, regardless of their legal status. The county-funded centers in Silver Spring and Wheaton -- as well as the temporary site in Takoma Park -- are run by CASA of Maryland, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The Maryland Minutemen formed amid controversy over the county's efforts to open another center in Gaithersburg. Local officials found a building, signed a lease and allocated money for the center. Then, city officials reversed course in October after residents complained. Gaithersburg's mayor and City Council have appointed a task force to decide on the next move.

Source: Washington Post, Feb. 26, 2006

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