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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
Rally call for migrant 'amnesty'
Strangers into Citizens rally
The rally followed a mass at Westminster Cathedral
Faith leaders and trade unions have joined a rally in London calling for an amnesty for illegal migrants.

The Strangers into Citizens campaign proposes the one-off "regularisation" of asylum-seekers and visa overstayers in the UK for more than four years.

The initiative, modelled on similar schemes in the EU, highlights current exploitation of illegal migrants and potential future tax revenue.

The Trafalgar Square rally followed a mass at Westminster Cathedral.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne has said the plans would put too much pressure on local services and "severely damage" the UK.

You don't achieve anything if you simply replace them with another lot who get exploited
Andrew Green, Migration Watch

Estimates vary widely as to how many illegal immigrants are living in the UK. The Home Office says there are up to 570,000, while pressure group Migration Watch puts the figure at up to 870,000.

Rally organisers say they support the right to restrict immigration but contend there are more than 300,000 people already in the UK who should be given the legal right to stay.

Illegal migrants are being exploited by employers who pay them poverty wages, undercutting British workers and depriving the country of millions of pounds of tax revenue, they say.

Campaigners want illegal migrants in the UK for more than four years be given two-year work permits, without a right to benefits, potentially paving the way for future citizenship.

'Not right'

Sir Andrew Green from Migration Watch said the move would be counterproductive.

"Difficult though the present situation is with people being exploited, you don't achieve anything if you simply replace them with another lot who get exploited," he said.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, who celebrated the special mass, told the BBC he was in "no way" intending to encourage future illegal immigration.

Many of them are married, settled down and so they live in a kind of shadow land
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor

But he said many illegal immigrants had already been in the UK for years and "their rights should be protected".

He told the BBC: "Many of them are married, settled down and so they live in a kind of shadow land. That's not right and it's not fair."

Addressing the rally, he said: "Our government and the governments all over the world must treat migrant workers with justice and with dignity."

Others at Trafalgar Square included the Anglican Bishop of Southwark Dr Tom Butler, Labour deputy leadership contender Jon Cruddas, Jack Dromey from the Transport and General Workers Union, and Baroness Shirley Williams.

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