What about other, illegal immigrants who might be in Washington County?

October 13, 2007|By RUSSELL WILLIAMS

Let the reader understand, in the following I am not taking a position for or against refugees or immigrants be they legal or illegal. I am simply doing some comparing and contrasting and asking questions about the differences that I have noticed between the attitudes toward legal refugees and the attitudes toward illegal immigrants.

On Wednesday, Sept. 19, I went to a public discussion about last year's resettlement into Washington County of 47 refugees and the possibility that another 50 or so might be resettled here this year. Both during the meeting and in discussions before the meeting I heard concerns expressed about the diseases these refugees might bring into the county, the extra policing costs associated with these 100 people, the medical costs, the schooling costs and other assorted costs associated with their presence. Many of these concerns were dealt with by the leaders of the discussion.

I then went to an anti-refugee Web site and it proceeded to list the dangers of bringing non-Christians into the community. I listened to the local congressperson explain that the refugees would be happier in someone else's congressional district. In addition I have read a variety of concerns expressed by people communicating with the local newspaper.


After all of this, I got to comparing and contrasting. As I have traveled about this county I have noticed that on many construction sites many of the workers seem to have a very poor command of English. This has suggested to me that many of the construction workers in Washington County were not born and raised in the United States.

All of the 47 refugees are legal immigrants who have had careful health inspections before they were allowed to enter the United States.

Why are the people who are raising such grave concerns about the presence of these legal immigrant refugees not also expressing grave concern about the possibility that some of the construction workers in Washington County are not legal immigrants? Are any of the construction workers in Washington County illegal immigrants? What kinds of health inspections have been done before these illegal immigrants enter the country?

If it is preferred that only members of certain religious groups be allowed to enter the country, what checks have been done to make certain that any legal or illegal construction worker immigrants are members of the preferred religious groups?

Do these construction workers, both legal and illegal, have medical insurance that covers them and their families beyond the coverage provided by Workers' Compensation? How many of these workers have the protection from exploitation that would be provided by belonging to a union?

There is much concern that a Virginia-based religious organization is supervising the settlement of refugees in Washington County. Is there a similar concern that there might be non-Maryland-based construction companies building houses in Washington County and bringing in workers, some of whom might not be legal immigrants?

In summary, what is so different about these 47 legal, health inspected, refugees that the difference creates a level of upset far greater than the level of community upset caused by the presence of far more immigrant construction workers?

The next time somebody talks to me about the dangers presented to the community by the 47 refugees, I will ask the person how many foreign construction workers are in Washington County, what percentage of them are illegal, what percent of the illegal immigrants have been health-inspected before entering the country and who is paying for their medical care if they are injured in a non-job-related situation.

If the person I am talking to really does not seem to be concerned about such questions, I will wonder what, in their mind, is so special about the refugees.

Russell Williams is a former Washington County School Board member who is involved in a number of public-service projects in Hagerstown.

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