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09 January 2006
Most days, contractors and landscapers in Danbury, Connecticut, USA, can be seen at Kennedy Park hiring men and women who go there hoping to find work as day laborers.
On Saturday, the gathering of workers was replaced by protesters who say those jobs are being given to illegal immigrants.
About 50 people calling themselves the Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control spent about two hours chanting and holding signs that read, "Speak English" and "Arrest Illegal Employers." It was one of several protests planned across the nation.
A Raleigh, North Carolina immigration control group wants U.S. construction workers to report bosses who hire illegal immigrants. The Americans for Legal Immigration PAC similarly plans to kick off a campaign this week geared toward reaching construction workers unhappy with employers who openly break immigration laws.
William Gheen, president of ALIPAC, said the group is putting the final touches on a bilingual, multicolor flier that will give workers step-by-step instructions on who to contact and what to say when reporting an employer to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Members will be encouraged to put fliers on doors, offices, break rooms and work sites for workers and employers to see.
Minutemen in Virginia, for example, have begun staking out day-labor sites where illegal immigrants are known to congregate and videotape them as construction crews come to pick them up.
In Connecticut, Paul Streitz, who organized the demonstrations, said they believe illegal immigrants are taking jobs from American citizens, and driving down property values.
"As individuals they are OK, but we have 11 million illegals and if 11 million Americans moved to Mexico they'd be thrown out too," he said.
Daniel Anastasia, 46, a construction worker from Westchester, N.Y., said illegal workers are costing him money.
"This is not a racist thing," he said. "They are making our tax dollars go up. They are taking away from us. We pay taxes they don't. I get paid what the union says. The contractor pays them cash. It's not fair to me."
Contractor Mike Nelson, 44, of Danbury said he won't hire illegals, and because of that his prices are higher than his competitors.
"I would love to hire them, because I could use the help, but I can't take any chances," he said.
The gathering was met with a counterprotest. David Stevenson, a real estate agent from Bethel, was one of several dozen people who marched across the street to support immigrant rights.
They chanted in Spanish, "We're here, and we're not leaving."
"It's a big country, and there is room for a lot of people," Stevenson said.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton has been an outspoken critic of U.S. immigration policy.
The Republican mayor sparked controversy earlier this year when he proposed deputizing state police as federal immigration agents.
Boughton says the influx of immigrants from Brazil, Ecuador and other countries has strained schools, created overcrowded housing and led to other problems such as unlicensed and unregistered drivers.
He's lobbying Congress for more money to help deal with those problems, but denounced Saturday's protest as counterproductive.
"I think there is an element out there that can be racist in tone, that can project the very worst in human nature," Boughton told WTNH-TV. "I think that there are people that are involved in this particular rally that are doing that."