Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007

Activists opposed to illegal immigrant services band

A dozen grassroots groups begin work on forming a regional coalition

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Anti-illegal immigrant activists from around the metropolitan area held their first meeting Wednesday night to begin work on forming a regional coalition aimed at pressuring local and state governments to cut their support of illegal immigrants next year.

Representatives from a dozen grassroots groups in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., attended the meeting.

The focus in Maryland will be on driver’s licenses, in-state tuition and day-laborer centers, said Brad Botwin of Derwood, director of the grass-roots group Help Save Maryland. He expects to draw on lessons learned by groups such as Help Save Herndon in convincing local officials to enact tighter illegal-immigrant laws.

‘‘Clearly, our friends from Virginia are light years ahead of us in Maryland,” said Botwin, who coordinated the meeting. ‘‘ ... We want to see what they can do to help us, and vice versa.”

Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group that hosted the meeting at its Washington headquarters, recently filed a public information request with Montgomery County to obtain all information relating to its three day-laborer centers, as well as information on all funding and grants for Casa of Maryland, the immigrant advocacy group that runs the centers.

‘‘Montgomery County, in my mind, is the epicenter of the problem in Maryland,” Botwin said. ‘‘ ... Anne Arundel County, Frederick County, Carroll County seem to have a lot more interest in the issues of illuminating illegal immigration in our state.”

Botwin founded Help Save Maryland earlier this year.

The group currently has hundreds of members mostly in Montgomery County, but also from Anne Arundel and Frederick counties, he said. And after a rally against illegal immigration Monday night in Rockville, chapters were started in Washington and Charles counties, Botwin said.

More than 50 people attended the rally to hear a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent explain the agency’s role in tackling immigration violations.

Many of the crowd’s questions centered on whether ICE would be willing to raid the county’s three day-laborer centers, which are believed to serve a large number of illegal immigrants with taxpayer money.

‘‘We’re not going to go out to day-laborer centers, we’re just not,” said Senior Special Agent Joseph Beuhn, who has worked at the agency’s Baltimore office for 20 years. ‘‘... But pass [information] along, we’ll take a look at it. ... If I can find a criminal violation that someone is willing to prosecute, I’ll be happy to do it.”

‘‘We are going to take this to the next level,” said Kensington resident Chuck Floyd, an unsuccessful candidate for county and federal office. ‘‘... It is our opinion that the only way you can get any action is through lawsuits. Will that happen in 2008? We certainly hope so.”.”