- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — About 100 immigrants and illegal aliens arrived at the State House yesterday to oppose six bills designed to crack down on illegal immigrants, including one that will allow police officers to take them off the street without cause.

“I am totally illegal,” said Zayd Torres, a Venezuelan living in Montgomery County.

Mr. Torres, 25, said he came to Annapolis after talking with officials at CASA of Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group, while looking for work.

“And I came because I thought that l personally was affected by these proposals,” said Mr. Torres, who ate pizza provided by the group but remained outside the State House to avoid a possible identification check by police.

Mr. Torres said he also made phone calls for the advocacy group to garner community support for the protest and was among those who arrived in a caravan of cars and four vans provided by the group.

“I came here because it will affect me in the future,” said a 42-year-old Ecuadorean man who came to the United States illegally 12 years ago.

He asked not to be identified and also stood outside because officers were guarding the room in which a news conference in opposition to the bills was being held. The news conference was followed by a House hearing.

The group of roughly 100 protesters was small compared with the 8,000 teachers, parents, students and others who arrived earlier this month in Annapolis for the so-called Thornton rally to support more money for public schools.

Still, Dario Muralles, who helped coordinate yesterday’s protest, said he was pleased with the turnout.

“It was excellent,” he said. “It was impressive to see that we could organize so many people in just three days.’

Mr. Muralles said the protest focused on the bills that would incarcerate illegal aliens as soon as they are discovered; ban illegal aliens from having driver’s licenses; punish U.S. residents who allow illegal aliens to use their cars during the commission of a crime; and crack down on embassies issuing identification cards to illegal aliens.

The other bills call for a study on the effect that illegal aliens have on the state economy.

Republican Delegates Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore County, and Richard K. Impallaria, Harford County, are sponsoring five of the bills. The one concerning driver’s licenses is being sponsored by Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, Anne Arundel Republican.

They are joined by about 15 other Republicans and a handful of Democrats — including Delegates Emmett C. Burns Jr. of Baltimore County and Rosetta C. Parker of Prince George’s County.

The news conference, held just before the House Judiciary Committee hearings began on the majority of the bills, was organized by Friends of New Marylanders — a group of mostly CASA of Maryland and the Latino Coalition for Justice members.

Most of the protesters spoke only Spanish and chanted “Si se puede.” — It can be done.

Among the Democrats who spoke against the bills was Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who defended the county’s police department for not deporting illegal aliens when they are encountered.

“This a federal policy,” Mr. Duncan said. “We don’t have the manpower or the resources. We are trying to build trust between the community and police department. … My concern is we are going to have a much less safe county if these bills pass.”

Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, Baltimore County Democrat, said she was introducing a bill in protest, which would prohibit the police from incarcerating illegal aliens.

Angela Morales, 49, a Howard County resident who testified before the panel, favored many of the immigration reforms, including a ban on illegal aliens’ having driver’s licenses.

“We are talking about illegal immigrants, not immigrants,” said Miss Morales. “If we don’t follow immigration policy, we are following an unnecessary increase in population growth.”

Last month, President Bush announced a major overhaul of immigration policy that would offer a reprieve to an estimated 8 million illegal workers facing the threat of deportation.

Under the proposals, illegal aliens working in the United States would be allowed to remain in the country for three years if their employers vouch for their jobs. During that period, the worker essentially would be given the rights of a worker with permanent-resident status, including Social Security benefits and the right to bring family members to the United States.

In addition, a “temporary-worker program” would permit foreigners to come to the United States if they can prove they have secured a job.

It is not known how many illegal immigrants reside in Maryland. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, about 337,000 Maryland residents — or 6 percent of the state’s population — are not U.S. citizens.

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