Schneckenburger Vows to Kill County Contracts, Grants to Hire, Aid Illegal Immigrants; Stats Show ‘Problem’ Minimal Here, Adviser has Political Baggage
A CECIL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT
NEWS ANALYSIS/ COMMENTARY
Cecil County Councilor Dan Schneckenburger, a candidate for County Executive in the upcoming Republican primary, is proposing to kill county contracts or grants with businesses or non-profits employing or aiding “undocumented workers,” tapping into a politically popular national anti-immigrant theme in the Donald Trump campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. But the proposal aims at a “problem” that data show is minimal locally and ignores how much it could cost local taxpayers to investigate contractors or grantee’s employee roster or potentially higher costs for construction and other projects.
A statement outlining Schneckenburger’s proposal was emailed to members of the local and state press Monday night by Erik Robey, who has already received payments of $325 for preparation of “campaign brochures” from Schneckenburger’s campaign, according to state campaign finance records. Robey is the former Chief of Staff to Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, who was convicted in 2013 on two counts of misconduct in office in a wide-ranging scandal involving misuse of county employees and police in political activities and romantic affairs.
Robey was a key witness in the trial but was not charged, although his testimony indicated he knew what Leopold was up to but did not report it to authorities. Robey is now the “community relations and legislative” advisor to the Harford County Sheriff, who has recently indicated support for policies targeting undocumented workers in that county. Schneckenburger told Cecil Times that Robey was “actively involved” in his campaign in the final few days of the Cecil County executive race.
Schneckenburger’s statement, which was also posted on his campaign Facebook page, declared that “one of his first major actions if elected County Executive will be to work with the County Council to pass legislation targeting businesses who hire undocumented workers. The legislation would allow the administration to terminate the contract of any business who knowingly hires undocumented workers and has contracts with Cecil County Government.”
“We are seeing a surge of illegal immigrants moving into rural Maryland counties, they are taking jobs away from American citizens and costing taxpayers millions of dollars,” Schneckenburger claimed.
In fact, Cecil County has had an average of about 90 “international migrants” per year recently, according to federal census and Maryland Department of Planning data—96 in fiscal 2015, 96 in Fiscal 2014, 78 in Fiscal 2013, 79 in Fiscal 2012, and 101 in Fiscal 2011—for a five year total of 360 people. Those figures include legal immigrants, special legal visa holders for highly skilled workers and for legal seasonal agricultural workers, as well as “undocumented” workers. The current Cecil County estimated population is 102,382 in 2015—of which “international migrants” are a miniscule sub-fraction of the population. That’s hardly a “surge.”
Schneckenburger’s statement did not identify any immigrant ethnic group, although the Trump campaign has targeted Hispanics and Mexicans in particular on the immigration issue. Again, federal and state data show the numbers do not match up with the political rhetoric, at least in Cecil County. Census and state Planning Department data show the small Hispanic population in the county rose by 210 people of Hispanic ethnicity between Fiscal 2013 and Fiscal 2014. Those figures included US citizens of Hispanic heritage as well as legal immigrants or permanent residents, as well as undocumented workers, of Hispanic descent.
“We have to put plans and polices in place at a local level to discourage illegal immigrants from locating in Cecil County; this is an economic and public safety problem,” Schneckenburger declared. He offered no statistics to substantiate his claims.
But Cecil County Sheriff Scott Adams told Cecil Times that his agency’s “arrest statistics do not bear that out.” He said that “we do not have any statistics to show any issue” with illegal immigrants being arrested or incarcerated at the local jail in disproportionate numbers in comparison with legal US residents.
Schneckenburger told Cecil Times that he felt it would be his job as County Executive to be “pro-active” and seek to prevent problems before they occur, on crime or other immigrant-related issues. He said that during his campaign travels, business owners and farmers have complained about illegal immigrant issues.
In addition to terminating county contracts with employers who hire illegal workers, Schneckenburger pledged to eliminate county grant funding to any organization that provides aid “to assist illegal immigrants.”
What Schneckenburger’s statement doesn’t say is who would enforce his proposals—the county attorney, the purchasing office or the county executive’s office?—and at what cost. Nor does his proposal specify what legal vetting, from contract or immigration lawyers, he obtained before putting out his broad brush mandates that would go beyond state legal requirements.
Maryland is one of many states that do not mandate that employers use the federal “E-Verify” voluntary program for employers to check that workers’ Social Security numbers are valid. Under federal law, an employer just has to show that he/she obtained proof of identity and work documents such as a Social Security number—but is not mandated to investigate whether the number is valid. Would Cecil County institute its own mandatory document checking system? Schneckenburger said that he would be willing to have tougher county rules than the state requires, such as insisting that bidders or grantees on county contracts independently check the work documents of employees.
Schneckenburger’s proposal would cancel contracts with contractors who “knowingly” employed illegals—and that is where the law clashes with the political rhetoric. It is highly problematic to prove what an employer knew—especially if a worker presented bogus identity documents—and in all likelihood the employer could claim ignorance. How much will the county spend in legal bills trying to prove employer knowledge, especially if a contractor contests a cancelled multi-million contract because someone complained they employed an undocumented sweeper on a major construction contract?
And then there is the “grants” angle on Schneckenburger’s proposal. The Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) must, by state law, educate all children living in the county regardless of their national origin or citizenship status. And the county is also required to provide a basic “maintenance of effort” level of financing for the public schools. Would the schools be penalized for any “assistance” provided to undocumented children under the county proposal, beyond the most basic state-mandated level of funds? Would the schools have to create a roster of “undocumented” children, or children born in the US whose parents might be “undocumented?”
Schneckenburger said that he would be open to discussions on how to implement his plan and added that the county “needed to look to the future” when the immigrant issue might be more significant in Cecil County’s economy than it might be right now.
The Cecil County government also has provided grants to many local charitable organizations out of the state VLT (Video Lottery Terminal) revenues the county has obtained via the Hollywood Casino in Perryville. Among grant recipients from the county has been the Cecil County Pregnancy Center, an anti-abortion Christian group that helps pregnant women, which received a $30,000 county VLT-funded grant several years ago. Would the group be denied county aid if it served “undocumented” pregnant women?
Would any charity, or local volunteer fire company, aided by the county’s VLT grant program now be required to determine the immigration status of anyone it helped or who was a member of the organization? What about grants to county homeless shelters—would they have to verify the citizenship status of mentally ill or alcoholic homeless people they are trying to help?
Schneckenburger said he was putting forward his proposal now, in the final two weeks of the county executive campaign, because local GOP voters are telling him they are “concerned” about illegal immigrants/undocumented workers. He conceded he had not researched the legal issues or population statistics on international migrants or Hispanic newcomers to Cecil County, which in fact show the issue is statistically minimal.
In other words, never let the data or facts get in the way of a political campaign.