half a million people march for latino rights in los angeles

50,000 march in denver - 20,000 march in phoenix


500,000 Pack Streets to Protest Immigration Bills The rally, part of a massive mobilization of immigrants and their supporters, may be the largest L.A. has seen.

By Teresa Watanabe and Hector Becerra, Times Staff Writers

March 26, 2006

A crowd estimated by police at more than 500,000 boisterously marched in Los Angeles on Saturday to protest federal legislation that would crack down on undocumented immigrants, penalize those who help them and build a security wall along the U.S.' southern border.

Spirited but peaceful marchers ordinary immigrants alongside labor, religious and civil rights groups stretched more than 20 blocks along Spring Street, Broadway and Main Street to City Hall, tooting kazoos, waving American flags and chanting, "S se puede!" (Yes we can!).

Attendance at the demonstration far surpassed the number of people who protested against the Vietnam War and Proposition 187, a 1994 state initiative that sought to deny public benefits to undocumented migrants but was struck down by the courts. Police said there were no arrests or injuries except for a few cases of exhaustion.

At a time when Congress prepares to crack down further on illegal immigration and self-appointed militias patrol the U.S. border to stem the flow, Saturday's rally represented a massive response, part of what immigration advocates are calling an unprecedented effort to mobilize immigrants and their supporters nationwide.

It coincides with an initiative on the part of the Roman Catholic Church, spearheaded by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, to defy a House bill that would make aiding undocumented immigrants a felony. And it signals the burgeoning political clout of Latinos, especially in California.

"There has never been this kind of mobilization in the immigrant community ever," said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "They have kicked the sleeping giant. It's the beginning of a massive immigrant civil rights struggle."

The demonstrators, many wearing white shirts to symbolize peace, included both longtime residents and the newly arrived, bound by a desire for a better life.

Arbelica Lazo, 40, illegally emigrated from El Salvador two decades ago but said she now owns two businesses and pays $7,000 in income taxes each year.

Jose Alberto Salvador, 33, came here illegally four months ago to find work to support the wife and five children he left behind. In his native Guatemala, he said, what little work he could find paid $10 a day.

"As much as we need this country, we love this country," Salvador said, waving both the American and Guatemalan flags. "This country gives us opportunities we don't get at home."

On Monday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to resume work on a comprehensive immigration reform proposal. The Senate committee's version includes elements of various bills, including a guest worker program and a path to legalization for the nation's 10 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants proposed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)

In addition, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has introduced a bill that would strengthen border security, crack down on employers of illegal immigrants and increase the number of visas for workers. Frist has said he would take his bill to the floor Tuesday if the committee does not finish its work Monday.

Ultimately, the House and Senate bills must be reconciled before a law can be passed.

President Bush has advocated a guest worker program and attracted significant Latino support for his views.

In his Saturday radio address, Bush urged all sides of the emotional debate to tone down their rhetoric, calling for a balanced approach between more secure borders and more temporary foreign workers.

Largely in response to the debate in Washington, hundreds of thousands of people in recent weeks have staged marches in more than a dozen cities calling for immigration reform.

In Denver, police said Saturday that more than 50,000 people gathered downtown at Civic Center Park next to the Capitol to urge the state Senate to reject a resolution supporting a ballot issue that would deny many government services to illegal immigrants in Colorado.

Hundreds rallied in Reno, the Associated Press reported.

On Friday, tens of thousands of people were estimated to have staged school walkouts, marches and work stoppages in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta and other cities.

In addition, several cities, including Los Angeles, have passed resolutions opposing the House legislation. At least one city, Maywood, declared itself a "sanctuary" for undocumented immigrants.

Despite the significant opposition to the crackdown on illegal immigrants shown by the turnout in recent rallies, a recent Zogby poll found 62% of Americans surveyed wanted more restrictive immigration policies, and a Field Poll last month found that the majority of California voters surveyed believed illegal immigration was hurting the state.

"Polling has consistently shown that Americans don't want guest workers or amnesty," said Caroline Espinosa, spokeswoman for NumbersUSA, a Washington-based immigration control group that says its e-mail list of 1 million and 140,000-member roster of activists have more than doubled in the last year.

Espinosa said current levels of both legal and illegal immigration would push the U.S. population to 420 million by 2050, "leading to a tremendously negative impact on the quality of life in the United States."

According to a U.S. Census Bureau survey a year ago, the nation's 35.2 million immigrants legal and illegal represent a record number. California led the country with nearly 10 million, constituting 28% of the state's population overall and one-third of its work force.

The swelling number of immigrants has clearly influenced the political calculus of those involved in the issue, including political and religious groups. The Republican Party, for instance, is split among those who want tougher restrictions, those who fear alienating the Latino vote and business owners who are pressing for more laborers mostly Latin Americans to fill blue-collar jobs in construction, cleaning, gardening and other industries.

Some Republicans fear that pushing too hard against illegal immigrants could backfire nationally, as with Proposition 187. Strong Republican support of that measure helped spur record numbers of California Latinos to become U.S. citizens and register to vote. Those voters subsequently helped the Democrats regain political control in the state.

"There is no doubt Proposition 187 had a devastating impact on the [California] Republican Party," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant. "Now the Republicans in Congress better beware: If they come across as too shrill, with a racist tone, all of a sudden you're going to see Republicans in cities with a high Latino population start losing their seats."

The effects of the nation's growing Latino presence also are evident in religious communities. This week, for instance, the president of the 30-million-member National Assn. of Evangelicals is scheduled to issue a statement supporting immigration reform, including a guest worker program. It will be in concert with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, conference president.

Rodriguez, whose Sacramento-based group serves the nation's 18 million evangelical Christian Latinos, said it took "a lot of persuasion" to broker the joint statement with Ted Haggard, president of the evangelicals group. Rodriguez said he warned the group that failure to support comprehensive immigration reform would have long-term political repercussions.

Latino evangelical Christians voted for Bush at a 40% higher rate than Latinos overall, he said, but they would probably turn away from conservative candidates and causes without support on immigration.

"I had to do a lot of asking: Will Hispanics ever vote for conservative candidates again, or partner with white evangelicals if they were silent while our brothers and sisters and cousins were being sent out of the county on buses?" Rodriguez said.

Churches were just one force behind Saturday's rally.

Several immigrant advocates said that the ethnic media were a significant factor in drawing crowds. News outlets repeatedly publicized it and even exhorted marchers to wear white shirts. Churches announced the rally too. Although a police spokeswoman estimated the crowd at 500,000 based on helicopter surveillance, rally organizers said it was closer to 1 million.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa briefly addressed the rally.

"We cannot criminalize people who are working, people who are contributing to our economy and contributing to the nation," Villaraigosa said.

In contrast to demonstrations 12 years ago against Proposition 187, Saturday's rally featured more American flags than those from any other country. Flag vendors were soon overwhelmed by demonstrators holding out dollar bills.

Father Michael Kennedy, a longtime immigrant advocate and pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, said that past demonstrations were more heavily Mexican or Mexican American, but the House bill had rallied protesters across religious, national and ethnic lines.

One was Korean immigrant Dae Joong Yoon, executive director of the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles. Yoon said the Korean community was more inflamed over the House bill than Proposition 187 because it would penalize not only undocumented immigrants but also businesses that hired them and anyone who helped them.

He said the Korean-language media has intensified coverage of the House bill in recent weeks.

"The Korean community is shocked and outraged over this inhumane legislation," Yoon said. "Everybody would be affected by it."


Many Stories, a Single Theme Recent illegal migrants and those who have gained legal status cite their contributions to the U.S. 'I love this country,' says one undocumented man.

By Anna Gorman, Michelle Keller and Kelly-Anne Suarez, Times Staff Writers

March 26, 2006

Candido Hernandez, 26, trekked through the mountains from Mexico more than two decades ago and now works construction to support his three U.S.-born children.

Carmen Vazquez, 50, cleaned homes in Los Angeles while relatives raised her daughter in El Salvador before she became a legal resident and the two were able to reunite here several years later.

Maria Ortega, 30, came from Mexico to look for better opportunities and found work at a plastics factory after presenting false documents.

The three were among a festive crowd police estimated at 500,000 that marched through downtown Los Angeles to City Hall on Saturday to support immigrants rights and oppose a pending federal bill that would make illegal immigration a felony.

The march stretched more than 20 blocks along three streets, tying up traffic through midafternoon. There were no arrests.

"This was a massive protest," said Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman Sandra Escalante, who said the crowd peaked at just over half a million by 11:30 a.m. "I can't recall a larger one."

Amid a sea of American and Mexican flags, protesters waved banners in Spanish that read, "We aren't criminals" and "The USA is made by immigrants."

"I love this country as if it were my own, for the opportunities it has given me," said Laurentino Ramirez, 32, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who makes minimum wage at a Los Angeles garment factory.

Ramirez took the day off to attend the march with 20 relatives. He worries about being deported and separated from his two children. If he became a permanent resident, Ramirez said, he could get a driver's license and a higher-paying job.

The marchers passed kazoo and ice pop vendors and carts steaming with hot dogs. Music blared over loudspeakers, Aztec dancers performed and peddlers hawked flags. A circle of drummers stopped frequently along the procession to play and shout. Many of the participants were immigrants both legal and illegal from Mexico and Central America. Some had recently crossed the border, while others have been in the United States for decades. Construction workers, business owners, families with young children and people in wheelchairs joined the march, coming from San Francisco, San Diego and other parts of the state.

Jorge Valdovinos, 43, of Fresno came with his wife and three children to show that he and other immigrants have made significant contributions to the U.S. economy.

"It's outrageous, because this country is built by immigrants," said Valdovinos, a permanent resident who owns a financial services company.

Julio Cruz, 20, said he does not want to return to Mexico because his infant daughter is hospitalized here.

In Mexico, Cruz made about $3.50 a day. Here, he said, he earns considerably more in construction.

"I came here to work," said Cruz. "I didn't come here to be out in the streets. I don't think it would be too much to ask for legal documents so that I could keep working."

The rally was organized and funded by unions, religious organizations and immigrants rights groups, including Service Employees International Union Local 660; United Farm Workers; Hermandad Mexicana, an organization that assists immigrants; and the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.

It was publicized through Spanish-language media, which encouraged participants to wear white for peace and carry American flags to show patriotism. The organizers bused in participants who lacked transportation and helped guide them along the route.

The march started at 9th Street and followed Broadway, Main and Spring streets before converging at City Hall. Speakers demanded a path toward legalization and denounced congressional legislation that would tighten border enforcement and crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers.

"We're not going to let them treat us like modern-day slaves," Angela Sanbrano, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, said to the crowd in Spanish. "You have all sent a very clear message to the president. We're going to fight for just laws that recognize what immigrants have done for this country."

Organizers said the massive mobilization shows that immigrants' voices must be heard.

"People are really upset that all the work they do, everything that they give to this nation, is ignored," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights, which helped organize the march.

"Instead," she said, "there are all these proposed laws against them. This is unacceptable."

One bill proposes adding 700 miles of fencing along the southern border, which Mexican immigrant Ortega said will only make the journey for illegal immigrants riskier.

Ortega, who has three children, paid a coyote to take her through the mountains nine years ago. "The people aren't going to stop coming; there will be more deaths."

Ortega said she also worries that police will be given more power to enforce immigration law. "Instead of trusting them, we are going to fear them," she said.

Ana Velasquez, 46, worked as a seamstress after arriving from El Salvador 26 years ago. She became a citizen after the 1986 amnesty and believes others should have the same opportunity.

"I want justice for the people who have been here and deserve to be here," Velasquez said as she marched on Broadway. "I'm very grateful for the chance to be in this country."

Times staff writers Hector Becerra and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this article.

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