1M Immigrants Skip Work for Demonstration

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By GILLIAN FLACCUS
The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 2, 2006; 1:54 AM

LOS ANGELES -- More than 1 million mostly Hispanic immigrants and their supporters skipped work and took to the streets Monday, flexing their economic muscle in a nationwide boycott that succeeded in slowing or shutting many farms, factories, markets and restaurants.

From Los Angeles to Chicago, Houston to Miami, the "Day Without Immigrants" attracted widespread participation despite divisions among activists over whether a boycott would send the right message to Washington lawmakers considering sweeping immigration reform.

"We are the backbone of what America is, legal or illegal, it doesn't matter," said Melanie Lugo, who with her husband and their third-grade daughter joined a rally of some 75,000 in Denver. "We butter each other's bread. They need us as much as we need them."

Two major rallies in Los Angeles attracted an estimated 400,000, according to the mayor's office. Police in Chicago estimated 400,000 people marched through the downtown business district.

Tens of thousands more marched in New York, along with about 15,000 in Houston, 50,000 in San Jose and 30,000 more across Florida. Smaller rallies in cities from Pennsylvania and Connecticut to Arizona and South Dakota attracted hundreds not thousands.

In all, police departments in more than two dozen U.S. cities contacted by The Associated Press gave crowd estimates that totaled about 1.1 million marchers.

The mood was jubilant. Marchers standing shoulder-to-shoulder filmed themselves on home video and families sang and chanted and danced in the streets wearing American flags as capes and bandanas. In most cities, those who rallied wore white to signify peace and solidarity.

In Los Angeles, the city streets were a carpet of undulating white that stretched for several miles, with palm trees and grass-covered medians poking through a sea of humanity. Marchers holding U.S. flags aloft sang the national anthem in English as traditional Mexican dancers wove through the crowd.

While most demonstrations were peaceful, a Santa Ana rally of 5,000 in Orange County was marred by people hurling rocks and plastic bottles at officers. Police made several arrests, but it was unclear if they were protesters. And a march in Seattle was disrupted when a car struck a group of marchers, though injuries were minor.

In Chicago, illegal immigrants from Ireland and Poland marched alongside Hispanics as office workers on lunch breaks clapped. In Phoenix, protesters formed a human chain in front of Wal-Mart and Home Depot stores. Protesters in Tijuana, Mexico, blocked vehicle traffic heading to San Diego at the world's busiest border crossing.

Many carried signs in Spanish that translated to "We are America" and "Today we march, tomorrow we vote." Others waved Mexican flags or wore hats and scarves from their native countries. Some chanted "USA" while others shouted slogans, such as "Si se puede!" Spanish for "Yes, it can be done!" Others were more irreverent, wearing T-shirts that read "I'm illegal. So what?"

The White House reacted coolly.


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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