By M.E. SPRENGELMEYER
Scripps Howard News Service
March 08, 2006
A coalition of labor unions, churches and community groups organized the rally against H.R. 4437, a strict border-control and immigration enforcement bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives late last year.
The legislation calls for building a new security fence along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border and toughens penalties against both illegal immigrants and the people who employ them.
"Immigrants do not want to be political scapegoats. We're tired of that," union organizer Jaime Contreras, of the Service Employees International Union, told a sea of people standing below the Capitol steps. Contreras said he came to the country illegally from El Salvador as a teenager, later became a citizen and served in the military.
Speakers denounced the enforcement-focused House bill, just as the U.S. Senate has started crafting a different version that is likely to include a guest-worker program granting legal status to many of the estimated 12 million people who entered the country illegally.
The rally opened with a prayer, read in both Spanish and English, accusing those who backed the enforcement-only bill of being "atheists," because it ignores Biblical passages that talk about the need to welcome strangers.
The speaker said he was praying for unnamed members of Congress "because they have become atheists, because if they were Christians they would not have this kind of law."
That offended Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who leads the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus and is a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
"It goes to show how mean-spirited this debate has gotten," Tancredo spokesman Will Adams said Tuesday. "They say if you want tougher border security . . . that somehow you're against God. That's radical speech. That doesn't represent the vast majority of believers in this country."
In a written statement, Tancredo denounced the SEIU for bussing illegal immigrants to attend the rally.
"Mass illegal labor drives down the wages of legal workers," Tancredo said. "But instead of defending American workers, the SEIU sees illegal labor as its salvation. The rally goes to show how much labor unions have sold out the American worker."
The crowd at the rally stretched from the Capitol steps to the nearby reflecting pool, covering most of the same grassy areas that are crowded every four years for the presidential inauguration. Surveying the crowd, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called it the most impressive crowd he has seen in all his years in Congress.
But Tancredo said the presence of so many presumed illegal immigrants sent a different message.
"If anything," Tancredo said, "the protestors should remind Congress of how poorly our laws are being enforced, and how much we should step up enforcement."
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