Protest Crosses Bridge Over Troubled Issue

Demonstrators clasp hands in prayer during a protest that crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in a march into Manhattan. One target of the activists is legislation pending in Congress affecting federal immigration policy.
Demonstrators clasp hands in prayer during a protest that crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in a march into Manhattan. One target of the activists is legislation pending in Congress affecting federal immigration policy. (By Daniel Barry -- Getty Images)

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By Michelle García
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 2, 2006

NEW YORK, April 1 -- Within sight of the Statue of Liberty, thousands of young families, teenagers and activists walked across the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday demanding an end to second-class citizenship and amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The demonstration, which drew more than 20,000 participants, was the latest in a series of protests that have sounded across the nation. The peaceful crowd that turned out reflected New York's cultural mosaic. Chinese immigrants chanted in Spanish while indigenous dancers in feathered headdresses burned sage. Korean folk musicians ushered a crowd that included a clan of women who cried: "Like Martin Luther King, we have a dream."

"My dream is to have equality for people who come to work," said Alejandra Garcia, 47, a Mexican-born green-card holder. "The United States is becoming richer because of the work of immigrants."

Her son, who is in the United States illegally, attends college and has hopes of becoming a psychiatrist. "But he won't be able to work," Garcia said. She said that without a policy change, he will remain confined to the underground economy.

Marchers waved flags of birth countries along with the Stars and Stripes. Many in the crowd were U.S. citizens or green-card holders but said their families included undocumented immigrants. Some said they felt duty-bound to march because they were once illegal immigrants.

Advocacy groups representing Haitian, Chinese and Mexican immigrants, among others, organized the protest under the umbrella of the International Immigrants Foundation in opposition to legislation approved by the House that would make illegal entry a felony and calls for the construction of a fence along a portion of the southern U.S. border.

Many stroller-pushing parents and teenagers said the march into Manhattan was their first demonstration. Despite heavy promotion in religious and immigrant media, the protest drew a small fraction of the city's 2.8 million foreign-born population and attracted a far smaller turnout than the 500,000-strong march in Los Angeles last week. A much smaller crowd of fewer than 1,000 protested in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Saturday.

While some of the banners pledged love for the United States, protesters leveled criticism at President Bush with placards and chants in Spanish of "Listen Bush, we have joined the struggle."

David Kim, 26, a naturalized citizen, leaned against the bridge. Kim, a librarian, was 12 when his family immigrated. He calls the pending legislation xenophobic and racist.

"I believe the same logic and system by which people are discriminated against based on race and sexuality is working against the poor immigrant," he said.

Frank Zhang, 52, a sidewalk portraitist in Times Square, skipped the afternoon tourist crowd to join in the march. The Chinese-born immigrant said he cherishes the ideals that laid the foundation of his adopted country.

"I like democracy, I like freedom," he said, then reflected on the legislation in Congress: "I don't like that this law makes us all criminals."


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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