- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

More than 100 immigrant-rights advocates and religious, labor and community leaders from 10 states, including Maryland and Virginia, are due on Capitol Hill today to encourage lawmakers to support legislation giving legal status to immigrant agricultural workers and students now in the United States.

The rally, part of what has been billed as a “National Week of Action,” with events in 68 cities in 29 states to push for immigration legislation, marks the first anniversary of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride — when 1,000 immigrant workers and their supporters rode buses last year from California to Massachusetts to the nation’s capital to meet with lawmakers.

Rally participants will press lawmakers to enact new immigration laws; continue to construct an expanded civil, labor and immigrants’ rights movement, and call on immigrant communities to participate in the political process as voters if they are eligible and as activists if they are not.

“We hope to bring attention to a range of issues now before Congress,” said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the Washington-based National Immigration Forum, which is co-sponsoring the event. “We hope to show the breadth of support behind immigration bills now pending in Congress and have our voice heard before they adjourn.”

The rally, also sponsored by the New American Opportunity Campaign, the National Council of La Raza and the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, will focus on several pending bills, including:

• The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would permit states to determine residency for higher education purposes and allow the granting of legal status to illegal alien students who are long-term U.S. residents. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

• The Agricultural Job, Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act (AgJOBS), which would provide on a one-time-only basis legal status to agricultural workers now illegally in the United States if they can be shown to be experienced and trustworthy. The bill, by Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, also would overhaul the H-2A legal guest worker program for agricultural workers.

The bills, which have wide bipartisan support, have not been referred to a vote.

About 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens are thought to be living and working in the United States.

In January, President Bush proposed a guest-worker program that would allow illegal aliens in the country to remain if they have jobs and apply as guest workers. Under the proposal, the aliens could stay for an undetermined number of renewable three-year periods, after which they could seek permanent legal status.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry has said that within 100 days of taking office, he would propose a plan to grant legal status to illegal aliens who have lived in the country for at least five years, worked and paid taxes, and passed a background check. Unlike the Bush plan, Mr. Kerry would grant ‘green’ cards and give illegals a path to citizenship.

Rally participants also will urge lawmakers to oppose the Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act, or CLEAR Act, introduced by Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, which would provide for enhanced federal, state and local enforcement of immigration laws.

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