- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Nonprofit groups would be forced to close their day-laborer centers under legislation that would require them to check and report the legal status of the workers they help, said Maryland’s largest immigrant advocacy group.

Kim Propeack, spokeswoman for CASA of Maryland Inc., said her group’s day-laborer centers “and other worker centers would in a large part be forced to shut down” if a bill offered by U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. becomes law.

The Wisconsin Republican’s legislation would extend legal-status verification beyond those who directly employ illegal aliens to public, private, for-profit and nonprofit agencies that help immigrants find work.

The Sensenbrenner bill, which the House passed last month on a 239-182 vote, would impose a maximum fine of $40,000 per illegal alien that an employer hires or that an agency helps find work.

“Nonprofits would shut their doors because they don’t want that responsibility,” Miss Propeack said.

The Senate will consider the bill next month.

In fiscal 2005, CASA of Maryland referred more than 4,300 immigrant and alien workers to 2,367 employers for temporary or permanent employment through taxpayer-funded centers in Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Wheaton.

Day-laborer centers are planned for Langley Park and Gaithersburg.

“The majority of workers that use CASA centers are documented, but we will not become a pawn in the government’s failed immigration laws,” Miss Propeack said.

Andres Tobar, director of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center in Arlington County, said the taxpayer-funded day-laborer center would not shut down because most of the workers it helps are in the United States legally.

“We’re very concerned about” the Sensenbrenner bill, he said. “A large Sensenbrenner and the House Judiciary Committee, said the closure of centers operated by CASA and others “would be their decision.”

“What the bill attempts to do is re-establish respect for our immigration laws and hold people accountable if they’re violating those laws,” he said.

Cecilia Munoz, vice president of policy for the National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Hispanic advocacy group, called the bill “shortsighted and harmful.”

“The whole point of day-labor centers is to organize and make orderly a process which people in communities have complained about,” she said.

“So by banning it effectively, the Sensenbrenner bill would really foster disorder in communities that have day laborers.”

Steve Smitson, CASA’s legal director, said the Sensenbrenner bill would encourage employers to use immigration status as a “weapon” to avoid paying fair wages.

“If that responsibility [checking legal status] were shifted to nonprofits, it would be a huge resource drain on us [and] it would discourage workers from seeking work at the organized centers,” he said.

More than 10 million illegal aliens are living in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Between 200,000 and 250,000 live in Maryland and Virginia each.

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