- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006

Local immigration advocates say the weeks of marching, rallying, lobbying and boycotting paid off Thursday when the Senate passed a bill that would extend citizenship to millions of illegal aliens.

“A lot of the people who marched were undocumented immigrants, but there were a lot of people who weren’t, [including] legal citizens of different cultures, not just Latinos,” says Prince George’s County Council member Will Campos, a Democrat. “I think [the Senate] looked at that and realized that something needs to be done.”

Jaime Contreras, president of the National Capital Immigrant Coalition (NCIC), agrees: “Before we had these rallies … we were just talking about how to stop [the House’s enforcement bill]. Now we think we actually have a chance of getting a good bill out of Congress.”

The Senate bill would give an estimated 10 million illegal aliens an opportunity for citizenship, double the flow of legal immigration each year, increase patrols on the U.S.-Mexico border and add 370 miles of triple-wire fencing along the border.

The House and the Senate must negotiate on a compromise immigration-reform bill.

John Keeley, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, a D.C.-based think tank that favors tightened borders, calls the Senate bill “the worst immigration legislation in more than 20 years.”

“It’s certainly worse than the 1986 amnesty, just by virtue of its sheer size [when] you were talking about 3 million aliens, and now you’re talking about quadruple that,” he says.

Immigrant-advocacy groups have held rallies, marches and press conferences nearly every week since March, and some local immigrants participated this month in a boycott of work, school and commerce.

“A lot of the lobbying seems to have paid off, at least within the Senate,” says Arlington County Board member J. Walter Tejada, a Democrat and leading immigration advocate. “And while many of the things in the Senate do concern me, and a lot of other people, it’s something to work from.”

But Mr. Keeley says the marches served only to “steel the resolve” of key House Republicans who oppose “amnesty,” including liberal Republicans who don’t have a strong record on immigration reform.

Pro-immigration leaders say they are worried that House members will refuse to compromise on their bill, which would make illegal entry into the country a felony and calls for jailing doctors or clergy who knowingly assist illegal aliens.

The Senate bill “is a step in the right direction,” says Juan Carlos Ruiz, general coordinator of the NCIC, but “making walls will not secure our borders.”

“We also need to make sure we reunify our families, and that’s not what I see this bill doing.”

Still, leaders say they have moved closer to their goals. For now, they will focus on voter registration and befriending Congress members, not host more demonstrations.

“We don’t want to jeopardize that relationship by stigmatizing people who will essentially have some say on the final outcome,” Mr. Campos says. “I think we’ve made a strong statement, and I hope our congressmen are able to follow.”

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