Monday, February 27, 2006

Thousands of pro-immigration advocates will protest next week at the U.S. Capitol against a bill that they fear would result in fines or jail time for operators of businesses, churches, day-laborer centers and other facilities that help illegal aliens.

The National Capital Immigrant Coalition (NCIC), an umbrella for about 40 immigrant-advocacy groups, says the bill — HR 4437 — is “anti-immigrant.”

The measure is expected to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee next month.

“HR 4437 permanently criminalizes undocumented immigrants and everyone who knows, cares about or assists undocumented immigrants,” said Kim Propeack, a spokeswoman for CASA of Maryland, an NCIC group.

“Agencies will shut down; many professionals will shut down and stop doing their jobs because they refuse to become private Border Patrol agents.”

Sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, the bill calls for extending legal-status verification duties to public, private, for-profit and nonprofit agencies that help illegal aliens find work.

It also would impose a maximum fine of $40,000 per illegal alien whom an employer hires or whom an agency helps find work.

In addition, it calls for the construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Yesterday, NCIC leaders urged immigrants, illegal aliens and their supporters to meet next Tuesday at the Capitol to pressure the Senate to defeat the bill and call for a more “comprehensive” immigration reform measure. Organizers said they expect more than 20,000 supporters to attend.

Manuel Hidalgo, executive director of the Latino Economic Development Corp., said the bill would have a tremendously negative effect on the economy and on American life.

For example, about 58 percent, or 1.2 million, of the nation’s agricultural workers are undocumented, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

“I don’t think the people who crafted this bill have realized how offensive and how damaging this would be on the U.S. economy,” he said. Businesses “would suddenly be given the job of the federal government.”

Maryland state Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez said the federal government’s failure to enact comprehensive immigration laws has caused lawmaking duties to trickle down to state and local levels of government.

As a result, she said, a strong “anti-immigrant climate” is brewing in Maryland that has linked Hispanics to terrorism.

“Though immigration is a federal policy, it is we at the state and local level who deal with immigrants, the human beings,” said Miss Gutierrez, Montgomery Democrat. “There’s a real disconnect, and [state legislators] can’t fix it.”

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