- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

About 150 Virginia high school students cut their school day short yesterday to show support for immigration advocates who this weekend protested federal legislation that would impose harsher penalties on illegal aliens and their employers.

Among them were 30 Salvadoran students from Freedom High School in Woodbridge who conducted a “peaceful, orderly” protest outside the school, which grew to include community members and students from two other local high schools, Principal Dorothy McCabe said.

They had not asked for permission before protesting outside, the principal said, adding that students who skipped classes will face routine disciplinary measures.

“They know some illegal aliens, and that certainly is a very important concern for them,” Miss McCabe said. “They were very respectful. They had a purpose, and I was just so proud of the way they handled themselves.

“We always want students to be involved in what’s going on in the world, [and] we always encourage students to practice their rights,” she said. “I think that’s an important part of their education, [but] I want them in the classroom.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of immigration advocates rallied at the U.S. Capitol yesterday against H.R. 4437, an immigration-enforcement bill that passed the House last year and comes before the Senate this week.

An interfaith prayer service at the Capitol followed weekend rallies that drew thousands in Chicago, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Dallas and Ohio, and an estimated 500,000 in Los Angeles.

The District-based Center for Community Change organized the event with help from the National Capital Immigration Coalition, an umbrella for immigrant-advocacy groups.

Crowd estimates yesterday ranged from U.S. Capitol Park Police officers’ 1,000 to organizers’ 3,000.

Labor union members, students and church groups from several states, including Kentucky, New York and California, wore blue shirts emblazoned with “We are America.”

Clergymen handcuffed themselves to protest a provision in the bill that would imprison for up to five years anyone who knowingly assists or allows illegal aliens to remain in the United States, under a broadened definition of alien smuggling.

The clergymen marched to the Dirksen Senate Office Building to visit their senators, who will take up the measure today.

Sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, the bill calls for up to $40,000 in fines for nonprofit groups and others that fail to check the legal status of immigrants while helping them find work.

The Senate Judiciary Committee debated its own version of the bill yesterday.

Critics have called the protests an attempt to generate sympathy for illegal aliens who drain public services.

Though Sensenbrenner spokesmen have said the bill is aimed at employers who hire illegals — not churches and day laborer centers — clergymen yesterday said they were “absolutely” willing to risk incarceration if Congress passes the Sensenbrenner measures.

Cristina Lopez, deputy executive director of Center for Community Change, said yesterday’s rally will help to bolster support for an April 10 National Day of Action on Immigrant Rights, where advocates will call for comprehensive immigration reform and mobilize immigrant voters.

The National Capital Immigration Coalition is helping plan the event. Protests are scheduled for the District, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Las Cruces, N.M., and Tucson, Ariz.

“We want immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship, family reunification, workers’ rights and civil rights and liberties for immigrants — nothing less,” Miss Lopez said.

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