Angry About Illegal Immigration and Marching 'for America'

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007

They showed their passion and anger with thousands of faxes and calls to Capitol Hill to stop an immigration reform bill last week. Now, grass-roots advocates of tougher curbs on illegal immigration hope to show their might in person for three days of rallies at the Washington Monument.

Organized by a former PTA mom from California and a homemaker from Texas -- who will meet for the first time today in Washington after months of online planning and venting -- the March for America kicks off this morning with a procession from the White House to the monument. The organizers expect a few hundred to participate today, a few thousand tomorrow and, they hope, 10,000 on Saturday. Their permit from the National Park Service forecasts a maximum of 2,000 participants each day.

"We want to take our country back from the crazy politicians who aren't listening to the citizens," said Melissa Gardner of Sacramento, one of the organizers. "For all the people who are too afraid to come out and speak and are watching all this stuff on C-SPAN, calling and faxing, we want them to get out there and see that American patriots are united."

Today's activities are built around Operation Body Count, a project created by activists in California and North Carolina to memorialize people who have died as a result of actions by people in the country illegally -- primarily victims of murder or drunken driving.

Friday's gathering will address the effect of illegal immigration on American workers. Saturday will focus on the battle against "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants. Dozens of authors and activists will speak. The offices of Reps. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Va.) said that they will participate.

National groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington and Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALI-PAC) have declined to join or promote the March for America, even though they agree with the goals. They say marches are not their style.

"Most of your national groups have been focused on stopping [the] Senate bill, which has worked so far," said William Gheen, president of ALI-PAC, in Raleigh, N.C. "The illegal aliens are on the streets because about all they can do is form mobs. Our people are in council chambers and committee meetings, trying to use what's left of our government."

But Gardner, 49, a product marketer, and co-organizer Suzanne Wise, 36, of Porter, Tex., say it's important to go beyond faxing, calling and blogging to standing up in person. "Anyone can delete an e-mail -- faxes go in the trash, for all I know," Wise said. "They can't ignore someone in their face."

So it's on to Washington. "The only money we've raised is covering exactly our expenses, which is $5,000," Gardner said. "Talk about grass roots, I'm renting a U-Haul, picking up the stage, bringing it over, putting it up with my son."

Gardner was galvanized last spring seeing tens of thousands of marchers rallying for the legalization of undocumented immigrants. Wise was alarmed by what she sees as an "invasion" of the country.

For both women, illegal immigration and border security are at the heart of a constellation of concerns, from terrorism, rising crime rates and overstretched schools and hospitals, to the loss of jobs and cuts in pay, and the prevalence of Spanish on the radio, in restaurants, at job sites, in the voting booth, even in announcements at Wal-Mart.

"All of this is adding up, and it's making America mad," Wise said.

Staff writers N.C. Aizenman and Pamela Constable contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company