FREDERICK ——At a bilingual insurance agency a few miles from downtown Frederick, 23-year-old agent Paul Quintania said he is not offended by the new law. His parents were born in El Salvador, and he speaks Spanish and English.
Many immigrants get taken advantage of because they can't communicate, Quintania said.
Still, Quintania said his parents' native language means a lot to him. "I think it's important to learn both languages because you retain part of your culture, your Latino culture."
Frederick County based its ordinance on model legislation by ProEnglish, a national group that seeks to make English the official language. That nationwide campaign is characterized very differently by supporters and opponents.
"It's a very pro-immigrant, immigrant-friendly measure," said Suzanne Bibby, director of government relations for ProEngish. "English is the language of success here."
But Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, said, "This effort to push English as an official language is part of a strategy basically to reduce the Latino population here, and it's a racist strategy."
In Anne Arundel County, Councilman Jerry Walker introduced an official-English bill in February. He withdrew it last week, citing "racially charged" incidents recently on the council. The council is at an impasse over replacing a black councilman, and one councilman recently referred to Vietnamese people with an ethnic slur.
Walker doesn't want the bill to be perceived as racially motivated, he said.
"It doesn't target any one ethnic group or language in general," he said. "My great-grandfather came over to this country from Greece, and he didn't know English and he learned it."
Walker said that during his 2010 campaign, he found many residents were concerned about national issues such as illegal immigration.
"Right after I first got elected, I met with my Republican colleagues before we were even sworn in, and I told them that I would introduce legislation like this sometime during the term," he said. "It's about sending a message to folks that we're not a sanctuary city or county [for illegal immigrants.]"
Walker plans to re-introduce the bill, though he's not sure when.
"Historically, language issues have generally been associated with other kinds of things that are going on where you have a group of people who are stigmatized or discriminated against," Wiley of the Center for Applied Linguistics said.
Today, a driving force is a demographic shift — the birth rate of white, English-speakers is declining, and immigration and minorities are driving population growth, he said.
But even in Queen Anne's County, where the foreign-born population is about 3 percent, Commissioner Dave Olds introduced an official-English measure at the end of February. He calls it a sign of patriotism — an attempt "to get the sprit of America back" into the area.
Olds said he has not seen much opposition to his bill, which is based on Anne Arundel's legislation. It's scheduled to be discussed by commissioners on Tuesday.
"I'm trying to get us all back to basics," the Republican said. "I just can't believe in this country, that that's not the law of the land. …Sometimes people say, 'Why are you doing it?' And I look at them and say, 'Duh.' Why would you not do it?"