Thousands rally to press for immigrant rights 2008-05-02 14:29:15   Print

    LOS ANGELES, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Some 10,000 people rallied and paraded through downtown Los Angeles on Thursday to press demand for immigrant rights.

    Carrying flags, banners and air horns, the demonstrators called for changes in federal immigration laws, an end to raids on employers of undocumented workers, and amnesty or a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

    The demonstration came a year after a similar rally ended in clashes between police and demonstrators.

    Despite that violent history, Thursday's rallies have remained largely peaceful and festive, with vendors selling hot dogs and ice cream and participants using air horns and rattles to make noise.

    One person was arrested on suspicion of fighting and another for smoking marijuana. Three reputed gang members were also arrested on suspicion of carrying sticks and "starting trouble," police said.

    William Torres, 41, a leader of one of the event organizers, the March 25th Coalition, said Los Angeles is "a pioneer, kind of leading the nation in bringing the issue of immigration reform to the American consciousness."

    "Is it fair that we only exploit them for their cheap labor and deny them citizenship when they love this country, they die for this country?" he asked.

    The protesters began marching in the early afternoon before congregating at Olympic Boulevard and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles.

    Many participants were carrying American and Mexican flags and chanting slogans in Spanish and English.

    They were also waving banners reading "Immigration Reform Now" and "Citizenship YES! Deportation NO!"

    Meanwhile, several hundred people carrying brightly colored signs began an impromptu march through some downtown streets.

    Los Angeles police escorted them along the unplanned march. No major clashes were reported.

    Although high school students were urged to stay in school, the Los Angeles Unified School District reported that 753 students left campuses to take part in the rally.

    Jorge Prieto, 15, a 10th-grade student, said his parents were both illegal immigrants from Mexico, but he was born here.

    "I want my parents to be legalized in this country," Prieto said. "I see that all the immigrants are here to make the country a better place."

    Also on Thursday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called on federal authorities to ease up on tactics that antagonize the immigrant community.

    Last month, he met with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in Washington, D.C., where he asked federal authorities to stop arresting workers at "non-exploitative" businesses. Instead, federal immigration officials should target dangerous or violent criminals, he said.

    "At a time when (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) has said that they don't have the resources to go after those undocumented (who have) committed serious felonies but do have the resources to go after legitimate employers, what I'm saying is we need to prioritize our resources," Villaraigosa said.

    Villaraigosa said he and Chertoff disagreed on the issue during the meeting, but the Homeland Security secretary did agree to set up a task force to look at the immigration-related issues that are important to the city of Los Angeles.

    However, critics of illegal immigration say undocumented workers cost local governments millions.

    The Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services issued a report in January saying illegal immigrants and their families collected 36 million U.S. dollars in welfare and Food Stamps.

    Ira Mehlman, national media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an anti-illegal immigration organization, said rallies like those being held today have lost their impact.

    "I think ultimately, as impressive as they were two years ago ... ultimately they backfired. It was very impressive to get a half a million people on the streets of Los Angeles, but what the American public saw were people demanding benefits and privileges based on breaking the law," Mehlman said.

Editor: Song Shutao
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