- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

Local pro-immigrant activists have distanced themselves from the second nationwide “Great American Boycott” today, but still are calling on Congress to enact comprehensive reform.

The National Capital Immigrant Coalition, an umbrella organization for 45 area immigrant-advocacy groups, plans to co-sponsor a march this afternoon on Capitol Hill from the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters to the Republican National Committee’s offices.

“The main reason for these events is to highlight the contributions that the immigrant community makes, but also to make sure that we remind the general public what immigration reform is about,” coalition President Jaime Contreras said. “We want to show the faces that will be affected by reform. I think that it’s good to show the general public that immigrants are real people who should have a real chance at working and living … in this country.”

Organizers expect several hundred immigrants and supporters to participate in the 2 p.m. march, rallies and prayer services. The events were planned for later in the afternoon to give employees and students a chance to attend without missing work or school, Mr. Contreras said.

Last year’s May 1 boycott, also dubbed “A Day Without Immigrants,” drew more than 1 million participants nationwide. It was organized by Latino Movement USA and the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition.

The coalition this year is supporting similar boycotts and protests across the country.

Liz DeBarros, spokeswoman for the Hotel Association of Washington DC, said she hadn’t heard of any boycotts planned at area hotels, and added that last year, managers were flexible and worked with employees who wished to attend events.

The march today in the District also is meant to remind lawmakers that immigrant leaders still are paying attention, Mr. Contreras said.

“There are two things we want to highlight for both parties,” he said. “To the Democrats: We want them to lead on this issue. They can’t just cross their arms and wait and see what happens. To the Republicans: We want to make sure they understand that the immigrant vote matters.”

The rally takes place as a bipartisan group of senators discusses a compromise bill that includes tougher border security and work-site enforcement. It also addresses the fate of the county’s estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens.

The group is working to meet a deadline at the middle of this month, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has set aside the last two weeks of the month for debate.

Though comprehensive immigration legislation has yet to reach President Bush’s desk, immigrant leaders say the reform movement has made significant strides over the past year.

“If you look at public opinion on this issue, you find overwhelming support for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship,” said Cecilia Munoz, a senior vice president for the National Council of La Raza. “The general public understands the options more than they did a year ago and disagrees that a hard-line approach … is an appropriate strategy.”

Other local events today include:

n A rally at Meridian Hill Park in Columbia Heights at 4 p.m.

n A rally in front of Alexandria City Hall at 5:30 p.m.

n An interfaith service at Culmore United Methodist Church in Falls Church at 7 p.m.

n An interfaith service at Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Brandywine at 7 p.m.

Street protests and boycotts have little effect beyond reminding lawmakers that there are people who care about an issue, said Daniel T. Griswold, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies and an authority on immigration policy.

“Anybody can get a few thousand people out to protest anything,” he said.

“They even run the risk of backfiring if they turn violent or anti-American.”

The question of immigration reform ultimately will be decided by Congress, which seems likely over the next few weeks, he said.

“The wheels are turning,” he said.

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