500,000 Protest Immigration Issue
Immigration issue roiling both sides of debate
LAPD estimates 500,000 at protest; Bush faces wedge issue for party
LOS ANGELES - Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators protested moves to impose stricter U.S. immigration laws in California on Saturday, while President Bush urged wary Republicans to take up his proposal.
The Los Angeles Police Department told NBC News that an estimated 500,000 protesters clogged the streets in front of Los Angeles city hall to protest a proposed law they see as punitive to undocumented workers. The estimate was based on aerial surveillance.
“This bill is wrong because this is a country for everybody who wants to live a better life and this is a free world,” said protester Lionel Vanegas, who owns an accounting firm.
Many of the marchers wore white shirts to symbolize peace and also waved U.S. flags. Some also carried the flags of Mexico and other countries, and even wore them as capes.
On Monday, Bush is to attend a naturalization ceremony in Washington where he will watch a group of new citizens raise their right hands and swear to uphold the laws of the United States. Later in the week, immigration likely will surface as a topic in Cancun, Mexico, where Bush is scheduled to meet with Mexico’s President Vicente Fox.
Congress is considering bills that would make it a felony to be illegally in the United States, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border. The proposals have angered many Hispanics, a key voting bloc both parties are courting.
Some Democrats, such as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, say Republican proposals like Frist’s are unsympathetic to immigrants.
Protests across the country
Thousands of people across the country protested Friday against legislation cracking down on the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Demonstrators in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Atlanta staged school walkouts, marches and work stoppages.
More than 2,700 students from at least eight Los Angeles high schools and middle schools poured out of classrooms to join the protest.
Police in Phoenix said 20,000 demonstrators marched on Friday to the office of Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., co-sponsor of a bill that would step up enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border and create a temporary guest-worker program that would require illegals to leave after five years. The turnout clogged major thoroughfares in what officials said was one of the largest protests in the city's history.
The Los Angeles demonstration led to fights between black and Hispanic students at one high school, but the protests were largely peaceful, authorities said. More than 2,700 students from at least eight city high schools and middle schools poured out of classrooms to join the protest.
Activists in Georgia said tens of thousands of workers did not show up at their jobs Friday to protest a bill passed by the state House that would deny state services to adults in the U.S. illegally and impose a 5-percent surcharge on wire transfers from illegal immigrants.
Elger Aloy, 26, of Riverside, a premed student, pushed a stroller with his 8-month-old son at Saturday’s Los Angeles march.
“I think it’s just inhumane. ... Everybody deserves the right to a better life,” Aloy said of the legislation.
‘A nation of immigrants’
President Bush on Saturday called for legislation that does not force America to choose between being a welcoming society and a lawful one.
“America is a nation of immigrants, and we’re also a nation of laws,” Bush said in his weekly radio address about the emotional immigration issue that has driven a wedge into his party.
Bush sides with business leaders who want legislation to let some immigrants stay in the country and work for a set period of time. Others, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, say national security concerns should drive immigration reform.
“They say we are criminals. We are not criminals,” said Salvador Hernandez, 43, of Los Angeles, a resident alien who came to the United States illegally from El Salvador 14 years ago and worked as truck driver, painter and day laborer.
Francisco Flores, 27, a wood flooring installer from Santa Clarita who is a former illegal immigrant, said, “We want to work legally, so we can pay our taxes and support the country, our country.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter wants to finish work on legislation that includes a temporary worker program and would give undocumented aliens an opportunity to legalize their status.
The Pennsylvania Republican is working against a deadline set by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and potential 2008 presidential candidate.
Frist plans to bring to the Senate floor his own border-enforcement immigration bill if the Judiciary Committee fails to pass legislation.
The panel is to meet Monday in hopes of rushing legislation to the floor before Frist brings up his own bill. Meanwhile, Bush is leaving Wednesday for meetings in Cancun with Mexican President Vicente Fox, who has been disappointed by Bush’s failure so far to achieve progress on the guest-worker program.
Mexico took out full-page ads in U.S. newspapers this week promoting the guest-worker idea.
Immigration is looming as a key issue in the November midterm elections in which Republicans are seeking to hold on to their majorities in both houses of Congress. But the politics of border security have created competing pressures for Republicans.
Bush views the guest-worker program as way of courting Hispanic voters in key states like Arizona, New Mexico and Florida. But some conservative Republicans are focusing on enforcement as constituents vent frustration at what they see as a strain on schools, hospitals and other local resources from illegal immigration.
Although the guest-worker plan would offer the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants a chance to register and work in the United States for up to six years, Bush rejected any description of it as an amnesty plan.
“I believe that granting amnesty would be unfair, because it would allow those who break the law to jump ahead of people who play by the rules and wait in the citizenship line,” Bush said.
How could anybody not agree with this bill. It is essential for the Nation Security of the US. Illegal immigrants put a strain on the economy, health facilities, and schools. Its not as if the US is putting a cap on all immigration and they Does the word ILLEGAL immigrant not indicate that these people are in the country illegally as in should be a felony. For any other law that prohibits something, there are consequences. It creates an unfair advantage for people who are actually becoming citizens illegal.