- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Hispanic groups united yesterday to stop what they call a wave of gang violence and anti-immigration legislation that is hurting their population.

“We want to strengthen the relationship between the police and the community,” said Jorge E. Figueredo, executive director of the Hispanic Committee of Virginia, part of the newly formed Regional Coalition of Latino Organizations.

The coalition — which includes the D.C. Latino Coalition, the Maryland Latino Coalition for Justice, and the Virginia Coalition of Latino Agencies and Organizations — hopes to stop the violence through several existing and proposed programs — including one to help juveniles escape gang culture.

The region has a known problem with gang violence, particularly in the District and Northern Virginia, home to members of the notorious MS-13 gang.

A spree of violence this summer, from May to August, included a machete attack on a 16-year-old Alexandria boy that severely mutilated his hands.

To help resolve such problems, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, recently announced the House Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, state and judiciary will earmark $18 million in fiscal 2005 for three anti-gang initiatives.

The FBI will receive $10 million for a national intelligence center and to hire extra agents and analysts; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will get $5 million for more agents; and the U.S. attorneys’ offices will receive $3 million to hire 25 more prosecutors.

Mr. Figueredo said coalition members also want voting privileges for immigrants who are established in the region, but have yet to become U.S. citizens.

“There are people who have been working for more than five years that are still waiting to become citizens,” he said. “These people have already done what is required to become citizens.”

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services estimated that about 7 million illegal immigrants were living in the country in 2002, and projections now put the number closer to 8 million.

Federal statistics on states with the most illegal immigrants show Virginia is ranked ninth and Maryland is 12th.

Mr. Figueredo said coalition members are also worried about the country’s growing anti-immigrant environment, including physical attacks and immigration raids in the District, and in Maryland, the Ehrlich administration’s unfavorable view of multiculturalism.

“This is a nation of immigrants,” Mr. Figueredo said. “And what is needed is comprehensive immigration reform. We are not for illegal immigration. We are for resolving the issues of the people who have already come into this country.”

The summit yesterday comes during Hispanic Heritage Month and follows a recent Brookings Institution and Pew Hispanic Center study that designates the Washington area as a region of Hispanic hypergrowth. The 2000 census counted nearly 447,000 Hispanics, or 8 percent of the region’s population.

A study conducted in June by the Ibero-American Chamber of Commerce found 32,000 Hispanic-owned businesses now operating in the area with an annual purchasing power of $11.1 billion.

Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland, said the report shows Hispanic buying power and that the time is now to use that leverage.

“For a long time, we restricted our activities to our respective states, because it was the most immediate,” he said, “but the current reality of our community, our needs, and our capacity for advancement requires a regional model.”

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