- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

An immigrant advocacy group asked Hispanics to boycott businesses and to stay home from work yesterday to protest legislation by Arizona lawmakers targeting illegal aliens, and said it was a trial run for a full-scale, three-day economic protest planned for July.

“This is a test so people can see and feel the power we have and the actual stranglehold we have on the economy of this state,” Elias Bermudez, executive director of Centro de Ayuda, an immigrant advocacy group in Phoenix, told reporters this week.

“We contribute to the greatness of this state and we should not be pushed around like we are.”

Although advertised extensively on Spanish-language radio and television stations, most community and civic leaders agreed that yesterday’s boycott was a failure because many potential participants could not afford to lose a workday or business income.

But the real effort will take place in July, organizers said, when Hispanics in Phoenix and Tucson will be asked again to boycott businesses and stores and to stay home from work.

Activists are angry about legislation — both passed and proposed — that they said has targeted legal and illegal aliens. Of Arizona’s 5.1 million people, 25 percent are of Hispanic origin.

State Rep. Russell Pearce, a Republican who has sponsored several bills targeting illegal aliens, said an economic boycott would not have much impact on the state.

“They’re boycotting because we believe the law ought to stand for something; they’re boycotting because we don’t think you can come here illegally and get free stuff; they’re boycotting because we think they ought to be citizens of the United States before they can vote,” Mr. Pearce said. “This has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with the law.

“You can’t steal your way into this country and demand stuff in another language,” he said, adding that politicians in Washington have failed to respond to the vast majority of Americans who want secure borders and the enforcement of immigration law.

The July boycott was called to protest laws that restrict the use of the Mexican matricula, or identification card; require illegal aliens to pay out-of-state college tuition; deny access to literacy programs to illegals; adopt English as Arizona’s official state language; and mandate that state funds be denied for the construction and operation of a day-workers center.

Many Hispanic activists also remain angry over the passage in November of Proposition 200, which required state and local government employees to verify the immigration status of those seeking public benefits and to report to federal immigration authorities any applicant who is in violation of U.S. law.

The initiative, whose key sponsors included Mr. Pearce, passed Nov. 2 with 56 percent of the vote.

Several groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), said the proposition would ?cut off all state services, including education, medical care and police and fire services, to all individuals who are unable to immediately provide adequate proof of their U.S. citizenship or residence.?

The organization brought a lawsuit, seeking to overturn the initiative, although it was dismissed by a federal judge who said MALDEF failed to prove potential harm from the enforcement of the initiative.

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