- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Organizers of the massive pro-immigration rally on Monday aim to build on the demonstration’s momentum by planning a national convention and linking with other immigrant groups to beat back drastic reform efforts in Congress.

The Mall was a wave of white shirts and U.S. flags as demonstrators, who at one point covered seven blocks, denounced a House bill that would crack down on the nation’s estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens and warned legislators of the growing political power of immigrants.

Juan Carlos Ruiz, general coordinator of the National Capital Immigrant Coalition — the umbrella advocacy group that organized the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice rallies nationwide — said the next step is to educate mainstream Americans.

“We’re going to regroup and strengthen our strategy, and we are having a national convention of groups in over 142 cities in the summer to create a platform [for the growing immigration movement] because we want to be part of building this great country,” he said.

Hundreds of organizations will meet later this week to discuss how to boost voter participation among immigrants, initiate leadership and coalition building among communities, and bolster support from health care, labor and church groups, organizers said. They will use Spanish-language radio and television, word-of-mouth and phone banks to attract supporters.

Local think tanks and political science professors say the national pro-immigration surge is likely the largest in U.S. history.

Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland professor of political science, said Hispanic voter participation likely will follow the same trend as the 2-million-vote surge among black men after the 1995 Million Man March.

“It’s clear these mobilizations can have an impact, but I don’t think it will be as large because a lot of people [who rallied may be] illegal and won’t be able to vote,” he said.

Although police on the Mall would not estimate the size of the crowd on Monday, organizers estimated attendance at a half-million.

Metro officials said yesterday that they recorded 821,283 passengers Monday — the second-highest total since 850,000 passengers used the transit system on the day of former President Ronald Reagan’s funeral in 2004.

About 131,000 of the riders on Monday were heading to the demonstration, officials said.

Organizers said the nationwide rallies have influenced the Senate, which is expected to resume debate on immigration reform when it returns from a two-week recess on April 24.

V. Nenaji Jackson, a professor of political science at Howard University, thinks that Congress will avoid the subject until after the House elections in November to keep from losing votes.

She also said the groups should focus on building coalitions with other ethnic parties and draw in personalities who will help tout their cause.

“Right now it looks like it’s them against us, and you don’t get far in America when you constantly have that situation,” she said.

Local immigrant groups will decide this week whether they will participate in a May 1 boycott of school, work, retail and transportation. The “Great American Boycott,” also dubbed “a day without an immigrant,” is being organized by the Latino Movement USA and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition.

“We don’t believe a boycott is necessary at this point, but we are open to see that as a recourse,” Mr. Ruiz said. “The first thing we have got to do is measure the outcomes of April 10 and assess what options are needed.”

The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a watchdog that began patrolling the border along Mexico a year ago, agreed that the rallies have influenced views on illegal aliens, but “not in the way they intended.”

Spokeswoman Connie Hair said images of U.S. flags being flown upside down last week prompted at least 400 persons to join the Minutemen.

“We don’t have to counterprotest [because] these protests are in response to what the Minutemen have already successfully done at the border, which is bring the seriousness of our open border to the attention of the American public and…forced the Congress to deal with it.”

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