Published on Saturday, March 25, 2006 by the Associated Press
Thousands Rally Across The Country For Immigrants' Rights
by Peter Prengaman
LOS ANGELES - Tens of thousands of immigrant rights advocates from across Southern California marched Saturday in protest of federal legislation that would build more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border and make helping illegal immigrants a crime.
The march followed rallies on Friday that drew throngs of protesters to major cities around the nation.
On Saturday, demonstrators streamed into downtown Los Angeles for what was expected to be one of the city's largest pro-immigrant rallies. The crowd was estimated at more than 100,000, said police Sgt. Lee Sands.
Many of the marchers wore white shirts to symbolize peace and also waved U.S. flags. Some also carried the flags of Mexico and other countries, and even wore them as capes.
Elger Aloy, 26, of Riverside, a premed student, pushed a stroller with his 8-month-old son at Saturday's Los Angeles march.
"I think it's just inhumane. ... Everybody deserves the right to a better life," Aloy said of the legislation.
The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border. The Senate is to begin debating the proposals on Tuesday.
President Bush on Saturday called for legislation that does not force America to choose between being a welcoming society and a lawful one.
"America is a nation of immigrants, and we're also a nation of laws," Bush said in his weekly radio address about the emotional immigration issue that has driven a wedge into his party.
Bush sides with business leaders who want legislation to let some immigrants stay in the country and work for a set period of time. Others, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, say national security concerns should drive immigration reform.
"They say we are criminals. We are not criminals," said Salvador Hernandez, 43, of Los Angeles, a resident alien who came to the United States illegally from El Salvador 14 years ago and worked as truck driver, painter and day laborer.
Francisco Flores, 27, a wood flooring installer from Santa Clarita who is a former illegal immigrant, said, "We want to work legally, so we can pay our taxes and support the country, our country."
On Friday, thousands of people joined in rallies in cities including Los Angeles, Phoenix and Atlanta and staged school walkouts, marches and work stoppages.
The Los Angeles demonstration led to fights between black and Hispanic students at one high school, but the protests were largely peaceful, authorities said. More than 2,700 students from at least eight city high schools and middle schools poured out of classrooms to join the protest.
In one of the largest protests in city history, Phoenix police said 20,000 demonstrators marched Friday to the office of Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., co-sponsor of a bill to step up enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border and create a temporary guest-worker program that would require illegals to leave after five years.
At least 500 students at Huntington Park High School near Los Angeles walked out of classes Friday morning. Hundreds of the students, some carrying Mexican or U.S. flags, walked down the middle of Los Angeles streets, police cruisers behind them.
In Northern California, about 300 students at Ceres High School near Modesto protested before school. Administrators allowed the demonstration for two class periods.
"We felt it was valuable for them to experience democracy in action," said Ceres Unified School District Superintendent Walt Hanline. "People need to understand this legislation is creating a lot of fear for people."
About 100 students refused to go to classes after the demonstration and were suspended for three days. Police cited eight for trespassing after they refused to go to a gym with the other suspended students.
In Georgia, activists said tens of thousands of workers did not show up at their jobs Friday after calls for a work stoppage to protest a bill passed by the Georgia House on Thursday.
That bill, which has yet to gain Georgia Senate approval, would deny state services to adults living in the U.S. illegally and impose a 5 percent surcharge on wire transfers from illegal
Associated Press writer Bob Jablon contributed to this report.
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