Some Frederick County immigrants live in the shadows -- Gazette.Net



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Marcela Gutterez, 45, of Frederick knows firsthand the gnawing fear of deportation and separation from family members, despite having lived legally in the United States for almost two decades.

She first immigrated illegally about 20 years ago and said she was in the process of becoming a legal citizen when she was captured by federal officials.

“It was a really embarrassing situation,” she said.

Gutterez, who declined to say what she did for a living, said she completed her immigration process three months after her brief detainment, but said others still live in fear of being captured and taken from their families.

Her situation is one of many at the heart of ongoing national debate over immigration.

Several U.S. senators this week were to unveil a sweeping bipartisan immigration reform bill, according to The Washington Post.

Among other things, the bill would allow for immigrants who come to the country illegally before Dec. 31, 2011, to gain registered provisional status immediately after paying a $500 fine and back taxes, provided they have not been arrested, the Post said.

They would be eligible for permanent resident status after 10 years and for citizenship after 13. Children brought to the country illegally at a young age would be able to apply for a green card in five years and citizenship immediately after, the Post said.

There are 17,135 residents in Frederick County, or about 7.3 percent, who identify as Hispanic, according to 2010 census data.

Maryland U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D) of Pikesville said he hadn’t yet been able to read the full bill but had been briefed on certain sections by some of the senators involved. He said the nation is in strong need of immigration reform, and the bill would see a lot of changes in the coming months as it is debated.

“It contains, I think, the essential elements,” he said. “Make sure our borders are secure. Recognize there are a lot of people who have been here for a long time — other than their legal status they have lived by our laws. They can’t break the line, but they need a path to citizenship. And it modernizes some of our visa laws. I look at the framework as being the right framework for what’s right for this country.”

U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-6th) of Potomac also hadn’t seen the bill, but stressed the need for reform.

“Immigration reform is a moral and economic imperative,” Delaney said in an email. “I am a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform that secures our border and creates a path to citizenship for those who are already here, pursing the American Dream. In a global economy, immigration reform is vital to making our economy more competitive.”

Frederick’s other congressional representatives — U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) of Baltimore and U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen (D-Dist.8) of Kensington — did not return requests for comment.

In Frederick, some of that fear stems from the 287(g) Criminal Alien Program, which was run by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office from 2008 to 2012. Frederick was the only county in Maryland that participated in the program.

Undertaken as a partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Office, the program authorized personnel to identify and begin deportation proceedings against illegal aliens committing crimes within the county.

The program was modified in November 2012, and deputies no longer do patrol enforcement, according to Capt. Tim Clarke of the sheriff’s office.

“Immigration enforcement is very procedurally demanding, and without daily participation in the processing system, keeping up with skills necessary to complete the process became problematic,” Clarke wrote in an email.

The loss of the program is viewed as a detriment by some like Brad Botwin.

Botwin is the director of Help Save Maryland, a multi-ethnic, grassroots, citizens organization dedicated to providing facts regarding illegal aliens who live or work in Maryland, according to the group’s website.

“I think this is just part of the [Obama] administration’s non-enforcement of the laws,” he said. “The sheriff has arrested and hopefully deported people from across the world that were here illegally.”

The program continues in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center, where the immigration status of inmates is checked when they are processed. There have been 1,071 detainees in the program since April 2008.

Under the program, deputies would only check on immigration status after an arrest related to a crime and weren’t performing sweeps to find illegal aliens, said Sgt. Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

“We don’t do roundups,” she said. “If we have charged someone with a criminal offense, their immigration status is checked. We’re not doing any kind of door-to-door looking for undocumented workers.”

The program at the detention center expires June 30, but Bailey said the office is confident an extension will be granted.

Rally for change

Regardless of the status of the county program, the fear persists, according to some immigrants.

That fear drove about 280 residents to board buses in the parking lot of Mexicali Cantina at 467 West Patrick St. in Frederick on April 10 and head to Washington, D.C., to attend a “Time is Now” rally at the U.S. Capitol in support of a path to citizenship for illegal aliens in 2013.

One of those in attendance was Candy Montenegro, 54, of Frederick. She emigrated illegally to the United States from Costa Rica in 1992. Although she now is in the country legally, one of her four children is in the country illegally, and she said she fears his deportation.

“It’s very difficult for me,” she said.

Not everyone who attended the rally had personally dealt with immigration officials.

Abel Ayala, 29, of Frederick is a heavy equipment operator who immigrated from Mexico 13 years ago. He said through an interpreter that he came to the United States in search of work.

“We want an opportunity for a better life,” he said. “We come to work. Our country doesn’t have the same opportunity. We don’t come to steal, like some people say. All we want is to work.”

Others came as a show of support.

Barbara Greenway, 59, of Frederick is a teacher at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, where she said many of her students are immigrants. She took the day off to attend the event, her first time attending an immigration rally.

“I want them to feel welcome and safe,” she said. “... It’s not in my blood, but it’s in my life. I’m proud to be here.”

Vanessa Perez, 17, of Frederick was born here, but said she was attending the rally in support of her parents, who immigrated, and others in similar situations.

“As a Latina, I feel like it’s my duty,” she said. “I can be the voice of the people who weren’t born here. I feel it’s something I must do.”

For his part, Botwin, who led a counter-protest, said the rally, which was conducted largely in Spanish, was a detriment to those calling for reform.

“I thought the rally hurt the cause for the illegals,” he said. “I would say 95 percent of the whole event was in Spanish — the signage was in Spanish, everyone was speaking Spanish. ... These are not people interested in being Americans. They were marching with Mexican and Honduran flags. They came here, broke the laws and want the keys to the kingdom.”

tlaino@gazette.net