- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

Dozens of undocumented aliens, some of whom waved foreign flags and carried placards, were among the estimated 2,000 demonstrators who rallied this week near the White House to demand legislation giving legal status to immigrants illegally in the United States, rally participants said.

The demonstrators gathered at Freedom Plaza, less than a mile from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service headquarters, to hear a variety of speeches from labor officials, religious leaders and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.

Mr. Gephardt introduced legislation Thursday, as he had promised to during the rally Wednesday, to allow illegal immigrants to gain legal status. He and other Democrats sponsoring the bill argue that many of them have lived and worked in the United States for years and deserve legal status.

Rally participants carried flags from Mexico, Bolivia and El Salvador, along with placards, one of which read: "Fix Our Immigration Laws Now."

They also presented what they said were 1 million postcards from people across the country calling for Congress to pass legislation granting limited amnesty or legal status to immigrants illegally in the United States..

Several critics of U.S. immigration policy and others said it was "offensive" to have illegal immigrants openly demonstrating just a few blocks from the White House and INS headquarters. But they were not surprised.

"I think many are offended when they see people here illegally who demonstrate and feel they can just make demands and force their way into the country," said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"This has been a real capitulation that we attribute to a lack of congressional urgency, a failure to provide adequate resources, a lack of courage in the executive branch and an unwillingness by the feds to enlist state and locals as cooperatives in the fight against illegal immigration," he said. "None of this is lost on illegal aliens inside the country, who now seem to feel they can act with impunity."

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, said it has become common for illegal immigrants to publicly gather and that they do not fear being arrested.

Mr. Tancredo, a frequent immigration critic, said hundreds have lined up at Mexican consulate offices nationwide to obtain "matricular cards" as a legitimate proof of identification for Mexican nationals whose immigration status may be in question.

"Illegal immigrants are the only people who need matricular cards, and they are lining up with abandon all across the country to get them," he said. "Showing up at a rally near the White House and INS headquarters is no big deal."

The matricular cards are being used by Mexican nationals as a valid form of identification. The cards cost about $25 and are good for five years. They can be obtained with a birth certificate and a photo identification issued in either Mexico or the United States. The cards have also been used by Mexican nationals to open bank and checking accounts.

Mr. Tancredo recently sparked a fierce debate in Colorado after he asked the INS to begin deportation proceedings against an illegal immigrant who was the subject of a profile in a newspaper. The congressman was criticized in editorials and by other politicians, some of whom introduced a bill to grant the young man legal residency.

The Freedom Plaza rally Wednesday featured several labor unions and other groups who champion a broad legalization of undocumented immigrants now in this country.

A top INS official said the agency knew that Mr. Gephardt was going to announce the proposed legislation but was not aware that the announcement was to take place at a rally at Freedom Plaza.

The official said that INS had no information on the number of rally participants prior to the event and did not know that illegal aliens would be in attendance.

Mr. Gephardt, a rally speaker, said that if they want the bill to be passed, a Democratic majority will have to be elected to the House in November.

His plan, known as the "Earned Legalization and Family Reunification" legislation, would allow immigrants to apply for a green card which grants legal residence if they have resided in this country for at least five years, have a work history of at least two years and are able to pass a background check.

It would also expand the number of visas available to family members of legal residents by removing spouses, children and parents from caps.

But it does not appear that the proposed legislation will be considered this year. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement there is no time to consider such a bill in his committee this year.

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