U.S. immigrants gear up for nationwide marches

PHOENIX Tue May 1, 2007 6:49am BST

Supporters of immigrant issues handout flyers and literature at a rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania, March 12, 2007. Pro-immigration activists geared up for marches in several U.S. cities on Tuesday to demand rights for illegal immigrants, though numbers are likely to be down from the mass rallies of a year ago, organizers said. REUTERS/Bradley C Bower

Supporters of immigrant issues handout flyers and literature at a rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania, March 12, 2007. Pro-immigration activists geared up for marches in several U.S. cities on Tuesday to demand rights for illegal immigrants, though numbers are likely to be down from the mass rallies of a year ago, organizers said.

Credit: Reuters/Bradley C Bower

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PHOENIX (Reuters) - Pro-immigration activists geared up for marches in several U.S. cities on Tuesday to demand rights for illegal immigrants, though numbers are likely to be down from the mass rallies of a year ago, organisers said.

Demonstrations, consumer boycotts and school walkouts are planned from coast to coast by groups calling for an end to a recent crackdown on undocumented aliens and better treatment for the estimated 11 million people living and working unlawfully in the shadows of American society.

A year ago, hundreds of thousands of mostly Hispanic immigrants walked off the job and packed the streets of major cities from New England to California in a massive show of their economic clout.

The latest rallies come as U.S. lawmakers are struggling to devise a workable compromise on immigration, seeking a formula to provide tougher border control and workplace enforcement while addressing the status of illegal immigrants.

Federal legislation that would have created a guest-worker program and offered many illegal immigrants a shot at citizenship failed last year in the face of stiff opposition from a group of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This year, protest organisers expect participation to be lower than last, citing waning support for the rallies in the Spanish-language media and stepped-up immigration raids that have struck fear in many immigrant communities nationwide.

"Our people are afraid to come out and march," said Elias Bermudez of the Phoenix-based Immigrants Without Borders group, which is organising a rally in central Phoenix.

Bermudez said he expected some 5,000 to 10,000 protesters to march to the Arizona state capital on Tuesday morning, a fraction of the number who took part last year.

In Los Angeles, city officials expect 20,000 people to rally in two marches downtown throughout the day, well below the number who took part in a May 1 protest last year that choked off city streets and brought traffic to a standstill.

Organisers there said preparations for the demonstrations had received less support from Spanish-language radio hosts who were pivotal in rallying Los Angeles' Latino community to last year's big march.

"This year, they have been more hesitant to support the boycott," said William Torres, of the March 25 Coalition activist group. "They might be succumbing to pressure from their bosses."

Still, authorities planned to close off a large swath of downtown to traffic on Tuesday. And many high school students were expected to defy warnings from school officials that they faced "consequences" for boycotting classes.

Other sizeable gatherings are expected in Boston, Chicago, Austin, Texas, New York and Washington throughout the day.

Protesters also are calling for an end to deportations, which have been on the rise during the past year, along with increased numbers of immigration raids across the country.

(Additional reporting by Kemp Powers in Los Angeles)

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