Carroll County, Maryland, a mostly white, middle-to-lower class area northeast of Baltimore, has been getting a notable volume of media coverage over the past year. This rural wonderland of pickup trucks, country music, and cookie-cutter housing developments squeezed between farmland has entered the limelight for controversial positions on hot-button issues—most notably for mixing religion and politics and for taking a hard stance on immigration.
You may be familiar with the legal case involving a stubborn member on the Carroll County Board of Commissioners who is risking her career, reputation, and freedom in order to keep reciting Christian prayers before board meetings. Not only do her actions exhibit a blatant disregard for the law, they are juvenile and arrogant. Unfortunately, she isn’t the only person in Carroll County who’s exhibited less-than-tolerant behavior of late.
While the nation delves into the controversial immigration debate surrounding thousands of children and minors crossing the US-Mexico border, Carroll County chimed in loud and clear last week. A plan to utilize the vacant United States Army Reserve building located in Westminster, MD, as housing for undocumented immigrant children was opposed by a number of county officials and one resident in particular, who shared his or her opinion via spray paint with the message “NO ILLEAGLES [sic] HERE. NO UNDOCUMENTED DEMOCRATS” on the exterior wall of the facility. Embarrassing spelling error aside, clearly this Westminster resident was less then welcoming to the idea of housing immigrant children his or her community.
We can laugh at the notion of “ill eagles” and brush off the crude nature of a spray painted message, however it’s clear this individual is not alone in his or her sentiments. Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild recently proclaimed in the Baltimore Sun that his county “will not become a repository for Obama’s failed immigration policies.” His statement was met with support by fellow county officials who apparently felt that an abandoned facility is better than a facility momentarily full of helpless children forced to leave their families to flee dangerous conditions imposed by drug cartels. Outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has expressed that he doesn’t believe sending refugee children back into war-torn countries or harsh conditions is an American thing to do, but he also believes the vacant facility is an unfit place for the children to be sent.
Unfortunately, because of the words of the heavily-Republican county’s leaders and the actions of misinformed and intolerant residents, plans to use this facility as a safe place for traumatized children were cancelled a week after the outcry began. Although the building has been vacant for nearly two decades and would only be used temporarily by the Department of Health and Human Services, the “concerns” of the county officials about the health and financial implications of allowing the homeless immigrant children to use the facility have outweighed their safety. This all comes despite the fact that, although there was strong official opposition throughout the county, there were no protests or opposition of note in Westminster itself, save for the spelling-challenged individual, whose act is being investigated by local law enforcement as a hate crime.
Meanwhile, sheriffs from several surrounding counties in Maryland will be visiting the US-Mexico border in order to gain a better understanding of what’s happening there. They will also be making sure to check the legal status of those they arrest. It goes without saying that Maryland residents are about to see a flood of racial profiling, especially for Frederick County residents under the watchful eye of Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, who takes a firm stand against any immigration and has pushed for laws allowing officers to question any individual they suspect of being in the US illegally.
As a Maryland resident myself, I have tried to understand county officials’ reasons for denying the use of the Westminster facility. I have tried to hear the concerns of the community that the children will be riddled with disease, will bring the bad influence of gangs with them, or will steal Americans’ jobs. But in the end, I fear this decision was simply based on discriminatory ignorance.