By Paul Hortenstine

As the nation’s political leaders prepare to take on an

issue that they’ve been avoiding for years, immigrants’

rights and pro-border control organizations faced off in the nation’s capital throughout the final week in April. They held competing events to influence legislators and sway public opinion about how to alter our immigration laws and regulations.

Whether the groups changed many minds is doubtful.

The two sides are in firm agreement that the nation’s current immigration policy is not working. But they offered contradictory proposals to address the dilemma.

The rights groups focused on immigrants’ contributions to society and the economy, while border control organizations portrayed immigrants as a threat to national security.

The rights groups’ week was highlighted by a congressional briefing and a pair of press conferences. A national coalition of 50 immigrant and labor rights groups also held a rally near the Capitol April 27 to support permanent residence for undocumented immigrants now working in the United States. A competing series of activities, under the umbrella “Hold Their Feet to the Fire,” involved Minuteman Project leaders, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and representatives of some 18 radio stations, including conservative San Diego talk show host Roger Hedgecock. He has brought large groups to Washington, D.C. for a decade to lobby Congress on immigration and other issues.

Included throughout the week were rallies, live call-in radio shows, panel discussions, news conferences and meetings with members of Congress.

At a briefing by the all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Border Network for Human Rights director Fernando García complained to Hispanic Link that there isn’t enough recognition in the press of their contributions to society and the economy. “We need to give immigrants a face,” he declared.

He charged that border control groups advocate misguided policies that restrict workers but fail to improve national security. Criminals and terrorists most often come through legal ports of entry, not an open southern border, he pointed out.

Minuteman Project co-founders Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist spoke at some of the events that promoted immigration restrictions. They called for a military presence at the U.S.-Mexico border and announced the planned expansion of their group’s activities, conducted in Arizona throughout April, into other border states.

They appeared with Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus members, including chairman Tom Tancredo (Colo.), Virgil Goode (Va.), J. D. Hayworth (Ariz.) and Scott Garrett (N.J.) at an April 27 news conference.

The congressmen, all Republicans, praised the Minuteman Project for enforcing immigration laws that they charged the federal government has neglected. They also supported placing troops near the southern U.S. border.

Overcome by emotion, Gilchrist broke into tears as he thanked Tancredo for his support.

Afterwards, Goode explained to Hispanic Link, “My legislation (H.R. 277) would authorize but not mandate troops to supplement the Border Patrol.”

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Immigration Policy

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At a news conference a day earlier, Simcox said he hopes by October to have his civilian patrols in the southern border states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, with civilian volunteers along the U.S. northern border to follow. “We are going to franchise our border patrol,” he stated.

The Minuteman Project reported that in Arizona during April it organized 970 private citizens who completed eight-hour patrol shifts. It took credit for notifying the U.S. Border Patrol of the presence of some 330 undocumented immigrants.

Asociación Tepeyac de New York executive director Joél Magallán stated that the patrols fail to solve immigration problems. “We need to change the immigration system to help those who are coming to work in the United States,” he said, adding that such legislation would make it less likely that criminals will remain unidentified by the community and law enforcement.

A Hispanic woman from Tucson, Ariz., whose husband is an undocumented immigrant, added the human dimension, “The main problem facing the Hispanic community is fear. Fear that they will be deported and fear that they will be harmed.” There is a lot of misunderstanding about undocumented immigrants as a threat, when all they really want when they come here to find work, she concluded.

(c) 2005, Hispanic Link News Service.