- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The nation’s oldest and largest coalition of municipal governments is calling on Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, including tougher federal enforcement.

The District-based National League of Cities this week announced its legislative platform on immigration at its five-day Congressional Cities Conference, which drew about 3,000 local government officials from around the country.

The federal government needs to implement a more uniform policy on immigration law enforcement to replace the current “hodgepodge” of enforcement policies developing at the local level, said Dennis P. Zine, a Los Angeles City Council member and chairman of the NLC’s immigration task force.

Lax federal enforcement has forced cities to develop vastly different policies on illegal aliens, said Mr. Zine, who led a workshop Tuesday at the Hilton Washington on local government successes and challenges in addressing immigration.

The Gaithersburg City Council last month passed an anti-solicitation ordinance banning day laborers and employers from seeking work or hiring workers on streets and in parking lots. The Herndon Town Council passed a similar ordinance in 2005 before a partially tax-payer funded day-laborer center opened in town later that year.

The Gaithersburg ordinance, which applies to all workers but targets illegal aliens, will go into effect when a day-laborer center in Derwood opens, said Gaithersburg Council member Henry F. Marraffa Jr., who is on the NLC’s immigration task force and its board of directors.

Montgomery County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said officials plan to hand over control of the center in the next week to CASA of Maryland, an immigrant-advocacy group which operates two other centers in the county and one in Prince George’s County.

Christy Swanson, CASA’s director of services, said the Derwood center is scheduled to open two weeks after CASA takes over.

Both the center and the anti-solicitation ordinance aim to solve a problem that has plagued Gaithersburg for years: the loitering of laborers, made up of mostly Hispanic immigrants and illegal aliens, in residential areas.

Gaithersburg Council member Geri Edens cast the lone dissenting vote against the law, which passed 4 to 1, because she questioned its legality.

“I really have problems with the law in that, as a lawyer, I don’t think it’s going to withstand scrutiny and I think it’s going to be virtually impossible to apply … in a nondiscriminatory way,” Mrs. Edens told the Gazette.

Mrs. Edens did not return a telephone call or an e-mail from The Washington Times.

Mr. Marraffa, a strong proponent of the ordinance, said something had to be done.

“I’m not going to base city laws on a hypothetical that we might lose in court,” he told The Times after NLC’s immigration workshop Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland opposes the law because it infringes on free speech, spokeswoman Meredith Curtis said, but declined to comment on whether the group plans to challenge it in court.

“We believe the ordinance adopted is unconstitutional,” Ms. Curtis said. “The government shouldn’t be in the business of banning the free speech of disfavored groups — in this case, poor people looking for work.”

Tom Fitton, president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, said local governments have a duty to protect public interest.

“Local communities are facing the problem of dozens of males hanging out on street corners, disrupting traffic, accosting passers-by and causing other problems,” Mr. Fitton said. “Certainly an anti-solicitation ordinance is in the panoply of local powers.

There are appropriate measures that local governments can take. Congress never intended to take states or localities out of equation.”

The ACLU and immigrant-advocacy groups oppose local involvement in what they see as a solely federal issue.

“We believe that laws like that are misguided, are unconstitutional, are undemocratic and also are a poor use of limited local resources — especially limited local law-enforcement dollars,” Ms. Curtis said. “There is general recognition that our federal immigration system is a mess. It’s only going to be a bigger mess if every town in the U.S. decides their own immigration law and is expending their local police resources.”

The District-based Judicial Watch last week filed an open-records lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department over records pertaining to the department’s handling of illegal aliens.

As a policy, Metropolitan police do not check suspects’ legal status, Officer Israel James said.

The NLC’s immigration platform also includes increased funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program to train local police officers to detain illegal aliens. The NLC opposes mandating local officers to enforce federal immigration laws without federal funding.

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