Rights Advocates Say Bill Is Too Convoluted to Enforce

At Bell Multicultural Senior High School in the District, Erica Barett, left, Sindy Mejicanos and Leyli Santos cheer on fellow students who walked out of class.
At Bell Multicultural Senior High School in the District, Erica Barett, left, Sindy Mejicanos and Leyli Santos cheer on fellow students who walked out of class. (By Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)
By Nick Anderson and N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 7, 2006

Local immigrant rights advocates criticized elements of a new U.S. Senate immigration measure yesterday that they said would divide ethnic communities and effectively deny millions of people in the underground economy a path to legalization.

The criticisms came amid continued student demonstrations that have sprung up around the region. Yesterday, students in Prince George's County and D.C. public schools became the most recent to express solidarity with immigrants by walking out of class.

Yesterday's developments revved up plans for major multi-city demonstrations Monday. Thousands are expected to turn out on the Mall to voice support for immigrant rights as Congress weighs competing bills from the House and Senate.

The emerging Senate bill would allow illegal immigrants to move toward citizenship if they can prove they have lived in the country for at least five years and meet other requirements.

Those who have lived in the country at least two years but less than five would have to apply for a temporary work visa at a designated U.S. port of entry. Those in the country illegally for less than two years would not qualify.

Immigrant rights activists appear torn.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Jaime Contreras, president of the National Capital Immigration Coalition. "But it doesn't go far enough. The bill leaves a lot of people out and divides the community in a negative way."

Doris dePaz, an organizer for Casa de Maryland, heard the news via a phone call while she was exhorting listeners of the Spanish-language station WKDM (1600 AM) to go to the march Monday. She said afterward that her heart sank.

"I said, 'This can't be!' " dePaz recalled. "I felt so sad and so impotent and so frustrated. Why are these politicians not taking into account everything we are doing?"

But dePaz said the new bill would inspire more people to attend the march Monday. "Now we've got even more energy to do whatever it takes to show that we don't deserve to be treated this way," she said.

Athena Viscusi, clinical director at Neighbors' Consejo, a community service organization in the District, said the Senate bill would prove hopelessly difficult to implement.

"It's very hard for people to prove that they've been in the country for all these random categories of years," she said. "Even if it were acceptable in principle . . . it's bureaucratically infeasible."


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