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Commission appointed to study impact of immigration in Md. needs another year

COLLEGE PARK — Despite the continuing debate about immigration policy, it took two years for the Commission to Study the Impact of Immigrants in Maryland to be appointed, and the members will now be asking for another year to do their work.

In 2008, Del. James Malone Jr., D-Baltimore and Howard, and Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery, were the lead sponsors of the bills to form the commission. The commission was created to put together a comprehensive study on how immigrants are shaping Maryland, and make recommendations for policy going forward.

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law in May 2008, giving the commission until Dec. 31 of this year to come up with its report. The commission itself remains active until May 2011.

No members were appointed to the commission until this year, and their first meeting as a group was in May. Since then, the commission has met several times, poring over reports and listening to speakers talking about demographic and economic data.

In a meeting at the University of Maryland, College Park, on Monday, members talked about the five-page summary of their research so far, which they plan to submit to O’Malley and the General Assembly. It is not the comprehensive report that the legislation calls for, but members and staff said that since the commission is now fully formed and meeting, it should only take an additional year for that report to be written.

“At the very end of this, we need to make clear that we want to keep serving as a commission,” said Chairman Larry Shinagawa, director of the Asian American Studies program at the University of Maryland.

Madaleno, a member of the commission who was unable to attend Monday’s meeting, said there are several reasons why the commission got off to a late start. The major reason is that O’Malley created a somewhat similar but much larger board — the Maryland Council for New Americans — by executive order in December 2008. This council’s primary objective was to determine ways immigrants could more quickly integrate into economic and civic life in Maryland, an area the Commission to Study the Impact of Immigrants was not asked to address.

Even so, Madaleno said the decision was made for his and Malone’s commission to step back and wait so that people did not get confused by two separate commissions dealing with immigrant issues. The Council for New Americans released its glossy 70-page report in August 2009.

O’Malley’s references to all immigrants as “New Americans” regardless of their legal status were criticized by Republican ex-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. during this year’s election campaign.

For Monday’s meeting, Jeffrey Werling, executive director of the University of Maryland’s Inforum economic forecasting project, and a staff member of the commission, drafted a brief report that talked about research on some of the topics the commission is supposed to investigate. This  includes immigrants’ impact on education, workforce development, demographics of immigrants in Maryland, and the economic and employment status of the state’s immigrants.

The draft, which will be reworked by members of the commission before it is completed this month, also includes a review of immigration enforcement policies. Enforcement was not included as one of the issues to be addressed in the initial law establishing the commission, but it has become one of the most talked-about topics in the nation’s immigration debate in the last year. Werling added language to the draft indicating that the commission would be remiss in its mission if it did not address the issue.

The commission plans to move forward with more meetings in 2011. Several members of the business community will be invited to testify about immigrants at a hearing scheduled next month.