Thursday, April 27, 2006

Local Hispanic elected officials yesterday discouraged participation in Monday’s nationwide immigrant boycott of work and school and instead urged immigrants to show solidarity with American citizens.

“We encourage all residents of the Washington metro region to participate in activities on May 1 … that are peaceful, educational and raise awareness of the contributions immigrants make to our nation,” said Arlington County Board member J. Walter Tejada, a leading immigrant advocate.

Prince George’s County Council member Will Campos issued a plea to all immigrants: “Please do not boycott anything on May 1.”

“We are trying to establish relationships with our federal leaders for comprehensive immigration reform and a boycott, especially of this magnitude, could damage that relationship,” said Mr. Campos, Hyattsville Democrat.

The Hispanic leaders were responding to calls for a nationwide immigrant boycott organized by the California-based Latino Movement USA and Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER) coalition.

Called “a day without an immigrant,” the proposed boycott aims to highlight immigrants’ place in the economy by having them close their businesses, skip school and work and avoid spending money.

Last week, local leaders of pro-immigration rallies held April 10 withdrew their support of Monday’s boycott.

Officials from Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties yesterday said they fear that holding a boycott so soon after the rallies, which drew hundreds of thousands of immigrants and demonstrators across the country, might generate a backlash against immigration and result in lost jobs.

Instead, they encouraged immigrants to register to vote and begin petition drives Monday — activities that Maryland state Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez said are as “American as apple pie.”

“We want to form alliances with our American friends,” the Montgomery County Democrat said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate this week returned to work on an immigration reform bill — the focus of this month’s rallies.

The United States is home to an estimated 12 million illegal aliens, about two-thirds of whom arrived in the past 10 years, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonprofit research group.

Illegal aliens cost the country and localities millions of dollars each year in unpaid income and Social Security taxes and in education and health care benefits, several state and federal leaders have said.

“We believe that all these [immigration] issues that we confront at our local government can be resolved by the federal government taking a comprehensive approach to our immigration crisis today,” said Mr. Tejada, former chairman of the Virginia Latino Advisory Commission, which compiled a report on a state law denying illegal aliens’ access to public benefits.

Advocacy groups on the West Coast, particularly in the border state of California, said immigrants and illegal aliens plan to participate en masse in the boycott. But other groups have expressed reservations about the effort.

Juan Jose Gutierrez, director of Latino Movement USA, said he will be satisfied with any kind of participation Monday.

“The fact that most of the people are in fact doing different activities on May 1 [is] in itself is a major step forward in the struggle for comprehensive immigration reform,” Mr. Gutierrez said in a telephone interview from California. “Without the boycott, they probably wouldn’t be doing anything at all.”

However, the Virginia-based group Mexicans Without Borders said it has withdrawn its support of the boycott, after having endorsed the event last week, said Manuel Hidalgo, executive director of the Latino Economic Development Corp.

Some small-business owners plan to close their doors early to attend evening events but cannot afford to shut down completely, said Mr. Hidalgo, whose group trains Hispanic workers and provides loans to Hispanic businesses.

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