By DIANA NGUYEN
SILVER SPRING (March 13, 2010) - Rep. Chris Van Hollen committed to fight for comprehensive immigration reform at a rally Thursday night, vowing to work toward amnesty to protect and keep immigrant families together.
About 30 faith-based organizations, or more than 500 people, attended the pro-amnesty event at the Bethel World Outreach Ministries International Church sponsored by Action in Montgomery, or AIM, a coalition of diverse religious congregations in Montgomery County.
Van Hollen, D-Kensington, promised the religious network that he is committed to the passage of immigration reform; will fight for unified families and amnesty; and will work with and update AIM members on the issue as the process moves forward.
"I pledge, yes, to fight to make sure that the comprehensive immigration reform bill that we enact will ensure family reunification," said Van Hollen. "And also to make sure that as part of the immigration reform, we allow people to come out of the shadows as fully participating citizens."
Any reform, Van Hollen said, should also include the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act, which would grant conditional residency status to undocumented high school graduates who are in "good moral character" and plan to finish college.
"The fundamental idea is ... that people have the opportunity to live the American dream," Van Hollen said.
His commitment was appreciated by a cheering crowd—many of them hoping for more action from politicians.
"I encourage them to take a leadership role," said Donna Brown, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. "Not just vote but help propel (immigration reform) to the surface."
However, political strategists say some politicians will try to avoid the controversial issue in order to keep their seat during the midterm elections.
"It is clear that politicians are reluctant to move on the issue," said William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.
And although most members of Congress favor reform and Obama promised reform during the 2008 presidential elections, Galston said, politicians are aware that most people believe unemployment will go up if immigration reform is passed.
"Immigration reform is not about job security for our elected officials," said Bishop Darlingston Johnson of the Bethel World Outreach Church. "It's about justice. Immigration reform is not about Democrat versus Republican. It's about the future of American citizens, children of undocumented workers who have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in their own country with their own parents."
Outside the event, a few protestors held anti-illegal immigration signs and passed out flyers regarding the economic impact of illegal immigrants.
"I want to educate them that there are 16 million Americans without jobs," said Paul Mendez, a member of Help Save Maryland, the largest anti-illegal immigration group in the state.
"There are a lot of people that need jobs—native-born people—and there are 8 million illegal aliens that have jobs right now, so that's 8 million jobs that could go to Americans."
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based anti-illegal immigration organization, projected that Maryland taxpayers will pay $500 million for emergency medical care, education and incarceration costs if illegal immigrants receive amnesty in 2010.
Other analyses found illegal immigrants have a beneficial impact on the economy. For example, the Washington-based Center for American Progress found immigration reform would increase the United State's gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade.
On Thursday, President Obama also reaffirmed his commitment to immigration reform in meetings with several activists.
Obama also met with Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to kick off a Senate bipartisan effort on the issue.
Van Hollen said he was looking forward to working with them and his colleagues in the House.
Only one Maryland congressman has sponsored legislation regarding immigration reform this year.
Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville, co-sponsored legislation that would reject amnesty for illegal immigrants, called for stronger border protection, and would require employers to use the federal E-Verify system, which is used to determine a worker's status.
Kratovil, who faces a tough reelection, also introduced legislation in February to penalize employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.