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Immigration rallies sweep US

Andy Sullivan and Thomas Ferraro / Reuters | April 10 2006

Flashback: Race Riots Could Lead to Camps For Americans and Illegals

Tens of thousands of people rallied in U.S. cities from Boston to Phoenix on Monday, waving American flags and banging drums to demand dignity and rights for millions of illegal immigrants.

The national day of protest, the biggest in a wave of rallies that some have compared to the 1960s civil rights movement, was provoked by legislation that would turn millions of illegal immigrants into felons and fence off sections of the U.S. border with Mexico.

"You are never free until you are legal. I came to get a better life. Everyone deserves the same," said Denise Jules, 68, of Haiti, who held a sign at a rally in New York saying, "Liberty and justice for all."

Up to 20,000 rallied outside City Hall under the theme "We are America," turning Broadway into a colorful sea of American and foreign flags.

Thousands marched through Washington to gather near the Congress building, where the Senate last week reached an impasse on a compromise plan that would open the way to citizenship for most illegal immigrants.

The House of Representatives has already passed a much harsher bill, mainly with Republican votes, focusing on tightening the border with Mexico and cracking down on illegal immigrants and those who employ or help them.

"The message that this march will send is that migrant communities have a presence and their needs should be addressed," said Roland Roebuck, a 58-year-old Washington resident who is half Puerto Rican.

"The reason why they don't listen to many migrants is because they cannot vote. But hopefully that will change."

Many protesters wore white T-shirts symbolizing peaceful protest and held banners declaring: "We are America."

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy likened the recent protests that have swept the country to the drive for civil rights by black Americans a half century ago.

"Dr Martin Luther King Jr. called on the nation to let freedom ring," Kennedy told the Washington rally.

"It is time for Americans to lift their voices once again -- this time in pride for our immigrant past and in support of our immigrant future.

"RAW NERVE"

Immigrant rights groups provided buses to bring in protesters, including low-paid workers whom Americans have come to rely on for cutting their lawns and fixing their houses.

U.S. meat companies said production in their factories fell sharply as the many Hispanic workers who slaughter cattle and cut meat joined the protests

In Atlanta, one of more than 60 cities where rallies were being held, police said 40,000 people flooded the streets. In Phoenix, more than 50,000 turned out from children to the elderly, carrying signs like, "I was not born here but now I belong here."

In Houston, thousands marched to the chant of "USA, USA, USA."

About 10,000 singing and chanting protesters marched through Boston and about 8,000 rallied in Omaha, Nebraska.

"We came together for one cause, to ask for laws that give the immigrants dignity," said Paula Delgado, a 14-year-old middle school student who was born in Mexico but has lived in Georgia since age 6.

"Not all Hispanics come here to be criminals."

There are 11.5 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, according to an estimate by the Pew Hispanic Center.

"I think (House) Republicans touched a very raw nerve," Kennedy said in an interview with Reuters before he spoke at the Washington rally. "It (the bill) touched the heart and soul of so many of these individuals ... enhancing their sense of fear and uncertainty."

The protests were greeted with dismay by critics who said the U.S. government should not encourage "a culture where America's laws are optional."

"They are demanding that they be given rights U.S. citizens have when their first act was to break the law by coming into this country illegally," said Susan Wysoki, spokeswoman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Houston television reported that flyers had been distributed in the industrial suburb of Pasadena urging people to burn down the homes of illegal immigrants.

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