Deepti Hajela, AP, April 11, 2006
NEW YORK — Huge numbers of marchers yesterday demanded U.S. citizenship for illegal aliens in dozens of cities from New York to San Diego in some of the most widespread protests since the current wave of demonstrations began last month.
Rallies took place in communities of all sizes, from a gathering of at least 50,000 people in Atlanta to one involving 3,000 people in the farming town of Garden City, Kan., which has fewer than 30,000 residents. Organizers estimated that more than a million attended the marches nationwide.
Demonstrators in New York held signs with slogans such as “We Are America,” “Immigrant Values are Family Values,” and “Legalize Don’t Criminalize.” One sign said: “Bush Step Down.”
“We love this country. This country gives to us everything,” said Florentino Cruz, 32, an illegal alien from Mexico who has been in the United States since 1992. “This country was made by immigrants.”
The protesters have been urging lawmakers to help the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens stay legally in the U.S.
A bill passed by the House would strengthen the nation’s border with Mexico only, while a broader overhaul of immigration law, which included provisions derided as “amnesty,” stalled in the Senate last week.
In North Carolina and Dallas, immigrant groups called for an economic boycott to show their financial impact. In Pittsburgh and other cities, protesters gathered outside lawmakers’ offices. At the Mississippi Capitol, they sang “We Shall Overcome” in Spanish.
In Atlanta, many in white T-shirts, waving American flags, joined a two-mile march from a largely immigrant neighborhood. The Rev. James Orange from the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda compared the march to civil rights demonstrations led by Martin Luther King and farm-labor organizer Cesar Chavez.
“People of the world, we have come to say this is our moment,” Mr. Orange said.
FORT MYERS: Leaders with the city of Fort Myers and Lee County are trying to determine how much “The Great March” cost taxpayers. The city of Fort Myers attorney sent a letter to organizers on Friday stating they would be responsible for all costs involved in the event. The organizers say they shouldn’t have to pay because they have a right to protest.
On Friday, the Fort Myers city attorney sent a letter to Luis Ibarra, Director of the United Latin Immigrants of Florida as well as the Mexican Consulate in Miami.
The letter stated, “The city is unaware if you have taken any steps to provide for the event and therefore will incur significant taxpayer dollars to provide what the organizers of the event are supposed to provide. As a result, the city will be seeking reimbursement for these services and will hold your organization responsible to the greatest extent of the law.”
Ibarra says he never received the letter and it’s the first he’s heard about the possibility of receiving a bill for the march.
“We are a non profit organization and we shouldn’t have to pay anything to anyone. This is freedom of speech and we have the right to protest and march as immigrants. Who says we have to pay? That’s ridiculous,” said Ibarra.