Joining what some are calling the nation’s largest mobilization of immigrants ever, hundreds of thousands of people boisterously marched in downtown Los Angeles Saturday to protest federal legislation that would crack down on undocumented immigrants, penalize those who help them and build a security wall on the U.S. southern border. Spirited crowds representing labor, religious groups, civil-rights advocates and ordinary immigrants stretched over 26 blocks of downtown Los Angeles from Adams Blvd. along Spring Street and Broadway to City Hall, tooting kazoos, waving American flags and chanting “Si se puede!” (Yes we can!). The crowd, estimated by police at more than 500.000, represented one of the largest protest marches in Los Angeles history, surpassing Vietnam War demonstrations and the 70,000 who rallied downtown against Proposition 187, a 1994 state initiative that denied public benefits to undocumented migrants.
The marchers included both longtime residents and the newly arrived, bound by a desire for a better life and a love for this county.
In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have staged demonstrations in more than a dozen cities. The Roman Catholic Church and other religious communities have launched immigrant rights campaigns, with Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony taking a leading role in speaking out against the House bill and calling on his priests to defy its provisions that would make felons of anyone who aided undocumented immigrants. In addition, several cities, including Los Angeles, have passed resolutions against the House legislation and some, such as Maywood, have declared itself a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants.
“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.”
LOS ANGELES—Thousands of students walked out of class in California and Texas, and crowds in Detroit marched toward downtown Monday as immigrant supporters continued nearly a week of street protests against proposed immigration reforms.
In Washington, where lawmakers were discussing immigration legislation, about 100 demonstrators wore handcuffs to protest a proposal to criminalize aid programs for immigrants.
The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected that proposal Monday, approving an amendment that would protect charitable groups, but it also approved more than doubling the current force of 11,300 Border Patrol agents over the next six years.
Protesters organized by immigrant supporters including the Catholic Church have rallied in cities across the country, loudly objecting to legislation that would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and build fences along part of the U.S.-Mexican border.
More than 500,000 gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, and tens of thousands rallied in Phoenix and Milwaukee last week.
On Monday, California’s Cesar Chavez Day, at least 800 students walked out from eight Los Angeles-area schools ranging from the San Fernando Valley to the wealthy coastal enclave of Pacific Palisades, said Monica Carazo, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District.