Immigrant rights activists join protests nationwide

May 1, 2008 11:45:12 AM PDT
Thousands of immigrants and activists gathered in cities across the country Thursday to demand comprehensive immigration reform, including citizenship opportunities for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Turnout has fallen sharply since the first nationwide rallies in 2006, when more than 1 million people - at least 400,000 in Chicago alone - clogged streets and brought traffic to a standstill.

Activists hoping to re-ignite the immigration debate in time for the presidential elections say this year's efforts are focused less on protests and more on voter registration and setting an agenda for the next president.

Nevertheless, they planned to take to the streets from Miami to Dallas to Los Angeles for May Day protests.

"We come to let Washington know we're still here. We're still fighting," said Jorge Guzman, 34, as crowds swelled in Chicago's Union Park before a march to a federal plaza downtown.

Guzman, a legal immigrant from Mexico, was among a group of about 100 marchers from the Chicago suburb of Waukegan, where tension mounted after city officials applied for a federal program that would train local police to help enforce immigration laws.

He carried a giant hand-painted banner depicting a man being handcuffed by immigration agents and a little girl crying and saying, "Where is my family?"

In Washington, D.C., immigrant rights groups and social justice organizations were demanding that Prince William County, in northern Virginia, rescind its anti-illegal immigration measure. They also want raids and deportations to end, and are calling for worker centers to be established in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

Activists also plan to deliver a letter to the Republican and Democratic national committees, asking the presidential candidates to enact immigration reform.

In Tucson, a march organized by a coalition of immigrant advocate organizations and labor union locals was expected to address border and immigration issues, ethnic and racial justice and education, health care and jobs.

In Milwaukee, factory worker Miguel Tesillos, 29, was among hundreds who lined sidewalks waiting for the march to begin.

"Our people, we pay taxes, we pay the same as a citizen," said Tesillos, who has a Green Card. "Maybe the new president can see this point, and do something for us," he said.