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Group looks at issue of immigration in county

July 18, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

As immigrants move away from the Washington, D.C., metro area, "Hagerstown is right on the radar screen for many of them," Tony Dahbura said Monday.

Dahbura, who is part of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's Immigrant Workforce Focus Group, said immigrants are discovering advantages in the suburbs, such as lower costs, less crime and better education.

Dahbura was a guest speaker Monday evening at a meeting of Building Community, a group examining prejudice, discrimination, diversity and other social issues in Washington County.

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Monday's topic, ripped from the headlines, was immigration.

Lewis C. Metzner, the other speaker, said the federal government handles the issue with "hypocrisy" and "dishonesty."

Although it's a felony to employ an illegal immigrant or even help one get a job, it's an unenforced crime, said Metzner, a Hagerstown city councilman and criminal defense attorney who has handled cases involving immigrants.

He presented what he called a simple hypothesis.

The nation's economy relied on slavery for many years.

"And, now we've come up with a new slave trade - it's illegal immigrants," he said.

Metzner said he doesn't necessarily support paying them much higher wages. Rather, he said, "make these people legal and make them subject to the same standards as any workers."

Dahbura, who, as a child, lived in El Salvador for 10 years, said employers have become more savvy the last three or four years about hiring immigrants, who fill in gaps in the economy.

As immigrants move in, he said, new issues arise, such as whether they may crowd into small apartments or if they'll face resistance when assembling to take jobs as day laborers.

Their goal is to work, Dahbura said.

"I don't think people come to this country with the intent of relying on public assistance," he said.

As Congress contemplates an illegal immigration policy, the issue sparked several opinions and a little debate at the Building Community session.

Audience members chipped in comments about the difficulties of obtaining a green card, the need for newcomers to feel welcome and the definition of assimilation.

"Have the Amish assimilated?" Dahbura asked.

As a few participants wondered how much, if anything, they'd accomplished, Alesia D. Parson-McBean, a Hagerstown councilwoman and a Building Community founder, assured them that they had.

"Now, we know a little more ...," she said. "We are fixing it."

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