Crowe, 54, protests the "anti-immigrant" and "racist" labels the group often attracts, saying its membership is multiracial, includes many who are bilingual and simply wants to secure the country's borders from illegal immigrants who are receiving public benefits, do not pay taxes and could be terrorists.
"We are not anti-immigrant. We are dealing with illegal immigration," said Robert Shoemaker, former president of the group. "We have people who speak languages other than American -- or English, rather."
April Gallop, a Sept. 11 survivor, was at a 2003 news conference regarding driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.
(Don Wright -- AP)
Gallop, who has portraits of her heroes, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela, hanging on her dining room wall, said that as a black woman, she resents how the advocates for immigrants often apply civil rights to immigrant rights. "They are utilizing civil rights, something my people fought for. I don't like the fact that they hide behind that to get what they want," she said.
What the day laborers want is "special treatment," she said. "We're all looking for work. . . . What is so special about these people?"
The members' protests notwithstanding, immigration advocates say the coalition has effectively wielded power where it can. "I take these guys very seriously, Mr. McDonald and his friends," said Rick Swartz, an immigration consultant and former executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
The coalition is part of a well-funded network of small groups across the country that together spend about $35 million annually on their efforts, according to Swartz, who says they appear to be grass roots but are working within a larger movement. "They are created to appear to be separate groups, but they are all the same people," Swartz said.
He said all the groups eventually lead to Michigan-based John Tanton, a national leader in the anti-immigration movement and founder of the Federation for Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA and ProEnglish.
Coalition members denied a conspiratorial effort to appear grass roots but say they do work with and hold membership in other organizations.
As an example of the local coalition's reach and its connections to other organizations, immigration advocates point to the bill sponsored by Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) that excludes all but legal immigrants from most state and local public services.
Albo said that when he got help from Shoemaker and others to draw up the bill, he did not know them as members of the Virginia coalition but as members of national groups, the American Council for Immigration Reform and the Federation for American Immigration Reform. He said Shoemaker helped him get a team of people to write the bill, which easily passed.
"I didn't use them so much as advocates but as a resource when writing the bill," he said.
Former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican who is running for governor, has voiced his support for the bill.
In Prince William County, the coalition has vocally opposed the recommendations of a task force charged with finding a permanent solution to the day laborer situation. The task force, created by Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge), is proposing that the county help cover the costs of a workforce center where laborers could wait for work.
The task force will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. April 4 in the auditorium of the Dr. A.J. Ferlazzo Building, 15941 Donald Curtis Dr. in Woodbridge.