Rallies Nationwide: 'A Day Without An Immigrant' - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

5/1/06-Washington, D.C.

Rallies Nationwide: 'A Day Without An Immigrant'

Demonstrators began to rally Monday against a proposed crackdown on illegal immigration, boycotting jobs, schools and businesses as a way to show the economic power of immigrants.

Organizers predicted unprecedented participation in Monday's rallies, saying people in many cities would join the protests.

"It will be tens of millions from coast to coast, from Los Angeles to New York," said Javier Rodriguez, a spokesman for the March 25 Coalition.

Crowds gathered in Los Angeles, California, and New Orleans, Louisiana, but it was too early to gauge how many people would turn out.

One of the first rallies began at New Orleans' Armstrong Park, where people waved U.S. flags amid early crowds.

In southern Florida, a long line of people walked along U.S. 1 in Homestead, 35 miles south of Miami, according to The Associated Press.

Jose Cruz, a 23-year-old construction worker from El Salvador, told the AP it would be worth marching even if he lost his job.

"It's worth losing several jobs to get my papers," said Cruz, who has a temporary work permit, the AP reported.

In Mexico City, Mexico, where a May Day march was scheduled, some people planned to show support for the U.S. rallies and call for a boycott of 750 U.S. businesses that operate in that country.

Meanwhile, a coalition of Hispanic-American groups held a news conference in Washington to stress that the protesters do not represent all immigrants.

"We understand the importance, contribution immigrants have made to the economy and the industry of this great nation," said retired Col. Albert F. Rodriguez, a veteran of World War II and the Vietnam War.

"But the difference is that we and millions of others like us did it legally. We're all here today to tell all those illegal protesters, 'You do not speak for me.' "

But Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican-American Political Association, vowed the demonstrations, dubbed "A Day Without Immigrants," will be unprecedented in their scope.

"We're going to see something that's never occurred in the history of this United States -- a day in which immigrants withhold their labor, withhold their consuming power -- they don't go to school, they don't go shopping, they don't go selling," Lopez said.

In New York, organizers are calling for demonstrators to form a human chain at 12:16 p.m. ET to symbolize the December day a controversial bill sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill, which stalled in the Senate, would make felons of the illegal immigrants and calls for new walls on 700 miles of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border.

A rally also has been scheduled at 4 p.m. in Union Square in Manhattan, and demonstrators plan to march from the park to the main federal building.

In Chicago, Illinois, organizers are estimating between 300,000 and 500,000 people will show up for a rally in Grant Park, which would make it one of the city's largest demonstrations. Chicago police said they have worked with organizers to ensure the rally remains peaceful and they do not plan to wear riot gear.

About 7.2 million illegal immigrants hold jobs in the United States, making up 4.9 percent of the overall labor force, according to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center. Undocumented workers make up 24 percent of farmworkers and hold 14 percent of construction jobs, the study found.

Other estimates put the number of illegal immigrants in the United States at more than 11 million.

Lawmakers cite concern about marches

Sen. Trent Lott warned Sunday that the planned demonstrations could undercut senators trying to find a middle ground.

"I do think that these big demonstrations are counterproductive, and they hurt with a guy like me, who is trying to look at this in a way that is responsible," the Mississippi Republican told CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Monday that he had mixed feelings about the protests. He said he understood the huge economic impact immigrants can have on a border state but added that he would prefer demonstrators focused on pushing lawmakers to reform immigration laws.

Even some of those who supported the earlier protests have called for caution in Monday's rallies. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last week urged parents not to let their children leave school for the demonstrations. Some immigrant groups have warned workers not to take part if it would cost them their jobs.

But Christine Neumann Ortiz, who helped organize an earlier Milwaukee protest, said she has seen increased support for immigrants since the earlier demonstrations.

"Particularly, the business community and the African-American and Asian community have really, actually stepped forward this time in a way that they didn't just a couple of months ago," she said.

Divisive issue among GOP

The immigration debate has split Republicans as midterm elections approach. President Bush, taking great pains to woo Latino voters to the GOP, has called for a guest-worker program and a way to legalize the status of people in the United States illegally.

A bipartisan measure backed by Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, would include the proposals Bush has advanced.

Critics have denounced any legalization plan as "amnesty" and vowed to oppose it.

A compromise Senate bill backed by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida would make the legalization process tougher for illegal immigrants who have been in the country less than five years. That bill also has stalled.

CNN's Ines Ferre, Keith Oppenheim and Harris Whitbeck contributed to this report.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

Powered by Frankly