- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Pro-immigration leaders said yesterday that they are united in the citizenship fight for illegal aliens, but that local groups across the country will decide on their own whether to stage a May 1 boycott.

D.C.-area leaders are discouraging participation in “The Great American Boycott,” in which immigrants and illegal aliens plan to shun shops, work and public transportation to demonstrate their contribution to the U.S. economy. The boycott is being organized by Latino Movement USA and the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition.

“The group calling the boycott, I understand, is no longer a member of the [national] coalition,” Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland, said at a press conference at the J.W. Marriot Hotel. “We agreed to disagree, but we agreed we are going to work together to accomplish our goals, and their goal is our goal, which is comprehensive immigration reform.”

Leaders from California and Illinois said yesterday that some groups will participate or hold marches on May 1. They were hesitant to take an official position on the boycott and denied that disagreements regarding the boycott are divisive.

“These are local organizations driving these mobilizations, and we are encouraging them to make decisions on what will work best for their communities,” said Cecilia Munoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza.

D.C.-area leaders, however, said they fear a boycott may kindle resentment among lawmakers and sympathizers and create consequences for protesters who would miss yet another day of school or work.

“We believe the ball is in the hands of the Senate, [and] they need to answer it,” said Jaime Contreras, president of the National Capital Immigrant Coalition (NCIC). “If we don’t get a good bill out the Senate, there will be a boycott.”

When it returns Monday, the Senate is expected to resume debate on legislation that would grant millions of current illegal aliens a path toward citizenship. The rallies urged members to defeat a House bill approved last year that would increase immigration law enforcement and border security, make illegal entry a felony and penalize those who help in illegal entry.

Mr. Contreras said fliers advertising the boycott were distributed, without permission, during the April 10 rally on the Mall, and were not helpful. “We don’t need groups that have done nothing on immigration to step forward and ruin our soup,” he said.

The NCIC will hold May 1 events in the region to encourage voter registration, e-mail and petition drives, and dialogue about immigration-reform legislation. The events are being held in the evening so that supporters can attend school or work.

Still, leaders say they will support individual decisions to participate in the boycott, and encouraged participants make “informed decisions” before they do.

“We don’t want people to feel like if they don’t boycott they’re not participating in the movement, [so] we’re offering an additional way that people can participate,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

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