The man who joined the picket line in front of the District Building yesterday afternoon began shouting, "We are workers, not illegals," and "No, no 224." But he was one of relatively few people to brave the cold and the daylight.
"A lot of illegal people are afraid to come to this demonstration," he said. "They are afraid they'll be picked up right here."
Fear is the standard of living for many people in Washington's Latino community who are here in the United States without documents. More than 200 a month are apprehended in this area by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
They have come to America to escape countries in which the unemployment rate sometimes tops 40 percent, and they come here to work at virtually any job they can find, and sometimes at almost any price.
A bill being considered in hearings before the D.C. City Council yesterday is designed to keep them from doing just that by imposing a $10,000 fine on employers who hire "illegal aliens."
Passage of the bill is far from certain but its existence has become a divisive issue between some Hispanic and black leaders in Washington.
If the demonstrations in front of the District Building were relatively subdued for most of the day, the hearings inside were not. Bill 2-224's advocates believe that undocumented worpers deprive American citizens of jobs and reduce wage rates.
Its opponents fear that it would result in discrimination against anyone with an accent or foreign appearance, especially Hispanics.
Enforcement of bill 2-224 would be left to Immigration and Naturalization Service. But district director Joseph Mongiello says the service is bound only by federal statutes.
There were few people at the hearing yesterday who testified in favor of the bill. One who did was Calvin Rolark, husband of council member Wilhelmina Rolark who introduced the bill last October.
Rolark said that "they still don't have enough jobs for even the legal citizens who are here." As for illegal aliens, "let them get the hell out of the country," he said.
William Larkin, an advisory neighborhood commissioner from Anacostia, told the hearing that "my son had to go to Bethesda to work as a busboy because Spanish-speaking people have it locked up here in Washington."
Opponents of the bill asserted that they believe that many jobs now held by undocumented workers would not be filled by American citizens.
"Jobs which used to be assigned to blacks in Washington now do not have enough status for them," said David Carliner of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"You are not a young, black, uneducated woman in Southeast," council member Rolark retorted. She called his suggestions "presumptuous."
School board member Frank Schaffer -- Corona called it part of a deliberate program to divide minority communities and develop a "scapegoat" for the country's economic difficulties.
One speaker representing the Georgetown University Law School immigration center said the council will be allying itself with "the Ku Clux Klan and the American Nazi Party" if it passed the bill.
Rolark and her aides contend that there is nothing discriminatory or racial about the bill, and they point out that it also would apply to undocumented African workers in the Washington area and to Orientals.
"Aliens come in all colors," she told a reporter after the morning hearing. She also said, however, that the division between the American black and the Latino community in Washington already exists.
"The number one prejudice still is against blacks," said Mrs. Rolark. Other things being equal, "if it comes down to a question of color, they (employers) want someone with lighter skin."
Outside the District Building as darkness came on, the evening hearings began and the number of demonstrators grew. By 8 o'clock, Latinos had filled the council chamber to overflowing.