Impact of illegal-alien boycotts unknown

Through rallies and boycotts of schools and businesses across the nation yesterday, illegal immigrants and their supporters sought to present a case to the American people that they are vital to the country's economy and should not be subject to deportation.

Demonstrators opposed to strict immigration proposals in Congress staged huge marches in Chicago and Los Angeles, curtailed operations at at least one major port, shut down construction sites in the District, forced the closing of crossings at the Mexican border and halted work at meat-processing plants in the Midwest. Although the protests caught the nation's attention, the economic impact was mixed, as many immigrants heeded the call of some leaders not to jeopardize their jobs, and businesses adopted strategies to cope with absent employees.

The action may have been stronger had the coalition of grass-roots organizations that advises immigrants not been deeply conflicted over whether to endorse a boycott. Some supported the effort to demonstrate immigrant power, but others discouraged it, saying it was premature because Congress has not taken action since the first demonstrations, and because the strike might induce a backlash by those born in the United States.

"I think that for the most part, people in the community understood the reasons why . . . we asked them to go to work and go to school," said Jaime Contreras, president of the National Capital Immigration Coalition of Washington, part of an immigrant coalition that discourages boycotting before Congress can act. "Rest assured, if we don't have a bill we can live with, we will have a general strike and a general boycott."

The protests drew few counter-demonstrations, though the chief House proponent of tough measures against illegal immigrants said the boycott would help his cause.

"I couldn't be happier, because every single time this kind of thing happens, the polls show that more and more Americans turn against the protesters and whatever it is they are trying to advance," Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) told the Reuters news agency in an interview.

Still, the boycotters tried to make their presence felt wherever they could.

In Las Vegas, the strike's effect seemed minimal, perhaps because of hardball tactics adopted by the larger hotels.

The Wynn Las Vegas hotel and casino told its 10,000 employees that "if they called out and were not sick that they would be disciplined up to and including termination," said Arte Nathan, chief human resources officer. As a result, only two workers called in.

"We are amazed. We are thrilled," Nathan said.

The MGM-Mirage, which runs casinos such as the MGM-Grand, Treasure Island and the Bellagio, reported minimal absences among its 60,000 employees, about one-third of whom are Latino, spokeswoman Debra Nelson said.

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