- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Thousands of immigration advocates rallied outside the Capitol yesterday, urging the Senate to defeat federal legislation that they fear would result in jail time for doctors, clergymen and social service providers who help illegal aliens.

Kweisi Mfume, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, joined protesters with the National Capital Immigration Coalition, a group of 40 business, faith and community organizations from the Washington area.

The protesters called HR4437 an “anti-immigrant” bill that targets Hispanics. They demanded more comprehensive immigration measures that would help illegals obtain citizenship and reunite migrant families.

“We are here to send a clear message that we are ready to disobey this law,” said the Rev. David Rocha, coordinator for Hispanic ministries for the United Methodist Church.

The rally began with protesters drumming and chanting, “Si, se puede,” or “Yes, we can do it.” Clergy from the Jewish, Muslim and Methodist faiths protested the bill during a prayer service.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, includes a provision that could jail for up to five years anyone who knowingly assists illegals in any way or allows them to remain in the country under a broadened definition of alien smuggling.

It calls for extending legal-status verification duties to public, private, for-profit and nonprofit agencies that help illegal aliens find work, with fines of up to $40,000 for violations.

The bill passed the House last year overwhelmingly and goes to the Senate this month.

A spokesman for Mr. Sensenbrenner said yesterday that the bill is aimed at those who smuggle and employ illegals, not churches and day-laborer centers.

At a press conference earlier in the day, health professionals, educators and clergymen were symbolically arrested to show the negative effect the legislation will have on social service providers.

U.S. Capitol Police estimated that the rally drew at least 5,000, while organizers pegged the crowd at 40,000, including people from California, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona and New York.

Mr. Mfume, who is seeking the Maryland Democratic Party’s nomination to run for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, said the bill punishes “good Americans who want good and legal reform.” He also said HR4437 creates a law called “unlawful presence.”

“Well maybe unlawful presence is [Vice President] Dick Cheney on a firing range without proper documentation,” he said.

As many as 12 million illegal aliens live in the United States, up from estimates of 11.1 million last year, said a Pew Hispanic Center report released yesterday. Maryland and Virginia are estimated to have 200,000 to 250,000 illegals each. The report found that the pace of illegal entry is increasing, despite government efforts to crack down. It also said Mexicans who enter the United States illegally are staying longer, perhaps because it is getting more difficult and more expensive to move back and forth.

Several groups, including the District-based American National Committee for Immigration Reform, and 9/11 Families for a Secure America, support the reforms outlined in the bill.

Jack Martin, a spokesman for the District-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the bill is “not an ideal solution,” but it is an “important step in the right direction.”

The protesters are “definitely overreacting,” he said. “The question is whether they’re overreacting deliberately or through ignorance. It is clear that their intent is to try to generate opposition to the bill and to try to encourage sympathy for illegal aliens.”

Steve Cammarota, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said Americans want immigration enforcement.

“The public is just more and more dissatisfied, and they’re upset the law is not being enforced, and they’re keenly aware of the costs of immigration,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire reports.

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