About 300 people, almost all Hispanos, filled the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church recently to protest a bill before the D.C. City Council designed to keep businesses from employing undocumented aliens. Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Council Members David Clarke and Hilda Mason were among those present.
The bill, which was introduced by Council Member Wilhelmina Rolark last fall, would penalize employers who knowingly hire aliens not entitled to lawful residence in the United States or aliens who lack U.S. authorization with fines of up to $10,000 and/or up to six months in jail.
Hispanos at the meeting last week complained that the bill would promote discrimination, Arturo Griffiths, chairman of the newly formed D.C. Coalition on Migration and Full Employment which sponsored the meeting, said, "The tendency in this country is to blame minorities and undocumented workers for the economic crisis in this country. That is why we called this meeting, to organize the community against the bill."
Other Hispanos addressing the group said the bill would make employers reluctant to hire non-native workers, whether they had work permits or not, to avoid any problem with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"Empoyers are never going to be penalized, and the workers are the ones who are going to bear the consequences," said Jose Medina, director of an immigration project at Georgetown Law Center.
The Hispanos were particularly concerned about what they considered to be the bill's racist overtones. They claimed that the bill would give prejudiced employers a pretext for disregarding non-white job applicants since the groups most affected would be blacks, orientals and Hispanos.
In addition to Hispanos, representatives of the Pacific-Asian Coalition and the Office of Haitian Refugee Concerns, also expressed concern that the bill wold penalConcerns, also expressed concern that the bill would penalr said he did not believe Rolark or organized labor in the District wanted to hurt Latinos. However, he suggested that enforcing the minimum-wage law and creating more jobs were solutions to the problems of the Hispanos.
Clarke said he couldn't support the bill because it would erode the District's Hispanic community, which is concentrated in the ward he represents, Ward 1. He said that to prohibit employers from hiring certain groups would create a problem worse than the problems the measure was designed to solve.
The coalition, which sponsored the meeting originally, included primarily Hispanic groups. It has since that time expanded to include representatives of African, Asian and Caribbean groups. Griffiths said the coalition's main concern now is to attract a more diverse representation and to organize for public hearings on the bill, which are be held at the District Building March 1.