Protests in U.S. draw hundreds of thousands for immigrant rights

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across the United States Monday in support of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and legislation that could give them legal residence in the country.

The nationwide protests, billed as a "campaign for immigrants' dignity" called for laws to make it easier for illegal immigrants to settle in the U.S. permanently and legally.

"From all corners of this country ... we are choosing to speak out in a nationwide movement for immigration justice that is strong, vibrant and growing in this country," said Eliza Leighton, a spokeswoman for CASA of Maryland, which assists illegal immigrants.

In Atlanta, at least 50,000 people marched Monday morning, according to police estimates, many waving American flags, reports AP.

According to Reuters, in New York, organizers are expecting 15,000 to 20,000 for a "We are America" rally at City Hall. In Phoenix, the estimate is about 100,000. In Portland, Maine, a state where Hispanics make up less than 1 percent of the population, advocates were hoping for several hundred.

"We're all coming together," said Hector Yturralde, president of the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum. "We have one main cause. As you can see, it is a powerful one."

Events were planned for 94 cities and towns across the United States. Groups are also planning work walkouts, product boycotts and other measures. Some will target lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican who has supported measures that emphasize law enforcement over citizenship.

Congress went home last week for a two-week break gridlocked on a compromise plan to to reform immigration law and give millions of illegal immigrants a shot at citizenship.

Failure to push through a Senate bill, which would create a temporary worker program as proposed by President George W. Bush -- but opposed by many in his own Republican Party -- could derail major changes in immigration laws for this year.

Participation at rallies yesterday in Dallas, where more than 300,000 marched, Miami and other cities "exceeded our expectations,'' said Avril Smith, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, which is supporting "The National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice.''

Demonstrators are protesting a House of Representatives measure, approved last year that would create 700 miles of walls and fences along the Mexican border and make it a felony to aid anyone who is in the country illegally. A Senate compromise that offered a path to citizenship collapsed in an April 7 vote, reports Bloomberg.

O.Ch.