Immigrant rights rallies staged Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of last year’s massive Los Angeles march and to call for reform legislation were marked by low turnout and a rowdy counterdemonstration denouncing illegal immigration.
Nearly 5,000 immigrants and their supporters gathered at the Los Angeles Sports Arena for an event dubbed Justice for Our Families, featuring mariachi music and speeches by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other politicians.
Carrying American flags and waving banners that read, “We are America,” the participants signed pre-written letters to Congress calling for legalization of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and an end to deportations and raids. Organizers said they received about 6,000 signed letters.
The energy and crowds didn’t compare to last year’s protest, when more than 500,000 people took to the streets over proposed legislation that would have criminalized undocumented immigrants and those who help them.
Organizers from community and immigrant rights groups attributed the disappointing turnout in part to the fear and uncertainty felt among undocumented immigrants and to a backlash against them following last year’s protests.
Although the rally at the Sports Arena remained peaceful, a nearby counterdemonstration staged by anti-illegal immigration activists became raucous as they traded insults and racial epithets with proimmigrant protesters. About 150 officers from the Los Angeles Police Department marched between the two groups as they headed down Broadway toward City Hall.
A crowd of about 60 immigrant rights supporters gathered on an adjacent corner of the two major downtown streets, making their own voices heard by waving Mexican flags, stomping on an American flag and, in at least one case, burning it.
“Racists!” they yelled at the anti-illegal immigrant groups.
Their numbers grew as downtown workers joined in. Celina Rivera, 43, a Salvadoran immigrant who works in a bridal shop on 8th Street near Broadway, came out to see what was going on. “America is free!” she yelled.
In a separate rally, several hundred gathered outside La Placita Church near Olvera Street, intending to march to the downtown federal building and immigration offices and encircle them by joining hands in a human chain to demand an end to deportations. When they reached the buildings, they held hands but could make it only halfway around the buildings.
Many of the immigrants who attended the rallies Sunday said that they wanted an opportunity to become legal residents. Others expressed opposition to the government’s proposed fee hikes for green card and citizenship applications.
Hilda Bautista and Ricardo Gutierrez, both undocumented immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, said their hopes for citizenship rest with their three U.S.-born children rather than Congress.
“As they grow older, so does our hope that one day they’ll be able to vote and elect people who will pass laws that protect us immigrants,” said Gutierrez, 45, a custodian at UCLA. “In the meantime, it’s important to keep reminding the lawmakers that we’re here.”
Filmmaker Martin Escalante, 23, who went to the Sports Arena, explained the low turnout succinctly: “Sequels are never as good as the original.”