- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2007

Immigrants and their supporters converged on the U.S. Capitol yesterday to demand immigration reform that keeps in mind the rights of the nation’s estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens and their families.

The roughly four-hour rally began without incident and proceeded peacefully without interruption. U.S. Capitol Police manned various walkways and entrances to the Capitol, keeping the hundreds of participants within the designated rally space cordoned off by plastic fencing.

The National Capital Immigrant Coalition (NCIC) organized the rally as federal lawmakers this week return from a weeklong recess to resume debates over a proposed immigration-reform bill.

The Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 would allow illegal aliens to receive probationary status and eventually apply for a proposed “Z” visa, which would put them on a path to citizenship after paying fees and returning to their home countries.

The plan also includes increased border fencing and security, work-site enforcement, an immigration point system based on education, work skills, English proficiency and a temporary-worker program. The worker program would allow foreigners to work a maximum of six years, with one-year breaks every two years during which the worker must return home.

The plan has drawn opposition from both sides of the debate.

Immigrant-advocacy groups have criticized the proposal’s fee structure and its treatment of immigrant families, while conservatives say the bill is too lenient toward lawbreakers.

“We are only looking for justice,” NCIC Executive Director Pedro Aviles said. “We are the American dream. We aren’t going anywhere, so listen to us.”

Despite temperatures in the mid-80s, the predominantly Hispanic demonstrators gathered on the Capitol’s West Lawn, bearing posters that read “America values families: Keep the family immigration system” and “Earned path to citizenship: Comprehensive reform now.”

Musicians performed songs in English and Spanish as volunteers distributed stickers and signs to a steady stream of arriving participants.

Some waved American flags. One group held a large banner that read in Spanish, “We all are immigrants.”

“Together we are going to promote fair reform for immigrants,” NCIC member Jessica Alvarez said to cheers and applause. “Tell your congressmen we want immigration reform for everyone — a just and humane reform for all.”

“What do you want?” NCIC officials called from a stage facing the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

“Legalization!” the crowd responded.

“When do you want it?” officials asked.

“Now!” demonstrators shouted.

Gustavo Torres, executive director of the immigrant-advocacy group CASA of Maryland, said immigrants are workers and families trying to better their lives.

“They are people seeking jobs, people seeking freedom, people seeking a place they can feel at home,” Mr. Torres said.

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