Around the Country

Hundreds of Thousands Rally in Cities Large and Small

By Sonya Geis and Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

PHOENIX, April 10 -- Victor Colex came marching out of the shadows Monday, draped in American flags from his hat to his measuring tape and demanding recognition from a nation he regards as his own.

Typically the 37-year-old Mexican-born worker earns $7 to $8 an hour building fences in this fast-growing region. But this Monday he joined a 100,000-strong river of humanity, from mothers pushing strollers with flag-waving toddlers to slouching construction workers to old men wearing wide-brimmed cowboy hats, all marching on the state Capitol to demand that Congress not criminalize illegal immigrants.

"We are not asking for favors," he said. "We only want to work, for our families and parents and children. We want what's just."

Across the United States, in the nation's largest cities and some of its smaller towns, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and children of immigrants, labor unions and civic associations took to the streets in an immigrant "Day of Action." The hope was that their chants might echo in the halls of Congress, where lawmakers have debated immigration legislation for weeks.

The turnout numbers cumulatively soared into the hundreds of thousands. Fifty-thousand people snaked two miles through an immigrant neighborhood in Atlanta. San Francisco, Austin and Madison, Wis., each had rallies that attracted 10,000. An estimated 3,000 people took to the streets of Garden City, Kan., a farming community in the southwest corner of that state. In New York City, 30,000 people of various hues and nationalities -- not least young Arab American women wearing Calvin Klein hijabs -- took a thumping, chanting walk down lower Broadway.

At least 350,000 people rallied in downtown Dallas on Sunday, and organizers now talk of an economic boycott in a collective demonstration of muscle.

The atmosphere Monday was as often festive. Anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric bubbles near the boiling point in Arizona, where the Minutemen patrol the border regions and Sen. Jon Kyl (R) has endorsed guest-worker legislation that would require immigrants who are working illegally to return to their countries when their visas expire. But few hints of discord could be heard in Phoenix.

In fact, some immigrants spoke of being inspired by the numbers in the streets Monday and by the failure so far in Washington of any legislation that would crack down on illegal immigrants. Daniel Quintero, a native of Mexico and now a legal resident here, walked with his wife, young daughter and baby. "I was a person who would say this isn't going to make a difference," he said. "But with the first march, there was a change in the government. I think we are making a lot of noise, and we are going to continue to."

Eliz Gerardo, a 17-year-old high school junior, stood in the sharp Southwestern sunlight with her friends. She wore a sticker: "Somos America, We Are America." Immigrant high school students have led impromptu walkouts for weeks. But Eliz said her mother called in and asked permission for her to leave school Monday.

"My parents are immigrants," she said. "We Mexicans are not here to fight against Americans. We're here to become Americans."

The sense often was that immigrants were surfacing Monday, emerging into the spotlight by the thousands from the restaurants and gardening companies and hotels where so many labor. Eduardo Romero, a 32-year-old Peruvian immigrant who works near Madison, said the size of the rally drove home just how many Latinos live there.

"There are so many immigrants supporting this economy," he said. "Something has to happen one way or another."

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