- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

Demonstrators from across the East Coast came to Capitol Hill yesterday to urge members of Congress set to resume the debate on immigration to give them legal status and end deportations that split families.

Last spring, numerous press conferences, student walkouts and rallies drew thousands of demonstrators to the District and millions to Los Angeles.

“We are making headway,” said Jaime Contreras, chairman of the National Capital Immigration Coalition.

“The problem is not immigrants; the problem is a broken system.”

However, protests earlier this week in Chicago, Phoenix and other large U.S. cities attracted smaller crowds.

Demonstrators yesterday chanted and waved signs reading, “No human being is illegal” and “Immigrant workers sustain the U.S.”

Organizers said about 10,000 people attended the event, but police officials would not give a crowd estimate.

The turnout here and elsewhere will in part help Congress gauge the amount of public support for immigration reform.

Local immigration advocates this summer began voter-registration drives while House Republicans held nationwide hearings asking how the House and Senate can create a compromise bill that deals with enforcement and illegals already in the country.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said Wednesday that crafting such a bill before the November elections will be “next to impossible.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, introduced a bill that called for a path to citizenship for illegal aliens. Although the bill passed in the Senate, it stalled when chamber leaders met to compromise.

Mr. Kennedy promised demonstrators that he will continue to push for immigration reform.

“We will pass a genuinely fair immigration bill that is worthy of America and worthy of the best of the American dream.”

The bill also would increase patrols on the U.S.-Mexico border and add 370 miles of triple-wire fencing along the border.

John Keeley, a spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, called the rally a “meaningless assembly” that has served only to “steel the resolve” of House leaders who want to take an enforcement-first approach to illegal immigration.

The District-based think tank favors lower immigration levels.

“They bring no new message to these rallies,” Mr. Keeley said. “It’s the same message from this spring: ‘We are here working illegally, accept us and accord us the same rights and privileges that legal immigrants and U.S. citizens have.’ That is a message that has fallen on deaf ears for most Republicans in Washington, a handful of Democrats and approximately 75 or 80 percent of the American public as public opinion polls have shown.”

Black, Asian and Muslim demonstrators yesterday said they will fight for equal treatment of immigrants, legal and illegal.

Israel Balderas, 36, a Hispanic-American from Falls Church, said it is time for Congress to debate immigration reform.

“Putting off debate is just delaying the inevitable,” he said. “We have got 10 to 12 million people who are helping the economy, but we have to figure out how to deal with illegal immigration.”

Franklin Radeish, the founder and pastor of Capitol Hill Independent Baptist Ministries, which is supported by 125 independent Baptist churches nationwide, said illegal immigration is an assault on the American way of life.

“They are not invading with guns or tanks, but with numbers,” he said. “We are not saying anything cruel about them, except that they are here illegally.”

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