Shouting “Si Se Puede!”—Spanish for “Yes, we can!” and a mantra for César E. Chávez and the United Farm Workers and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee—the marchers crammed into the downtown streets. They included families pushing strollers with their children and ice cream vendors who placed U.S.-American flags on their carts. Many wore white clothing to symbolize peace.
Police estimated the crowd in Dallas at 350,000 to 500,000. There were no reports of violence.
It was among numerous demonstrations that drew thousands of protesters Sunday and Monday, and earlier, in Texas, New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Alabama, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, and California, and even Washington, D.C., where some 100,000 rallied on Monday.
“If we don’t protest they’ll never hear us,” said Oscar Cruz, 23, a construction worker who marched among the estimated 50,000 in San Diego, CA. Cruz, who came without documentation to the U.S. in 2003, said he had feared a crackdown but felt emboldened by the large marches across the country in recent weeks.
In Birmingham, Ala., demonstrators marched along the same streets where civil rights activists clashed with police in the 1960s and rallied at a park where a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. stands as a reminder of the fight for equal rights and the violence that once plagued the city.
“We’ve got to get back in touch with the Statue of Liberty,” said the Rev. Lawton Higgs, a United Methodist pastor and activist. “We’ve got to get back in touch with the civil rights movement, because that’s what this is about.”
Organizers in St. Paul, MN, were surprised by the crowd—police estimated 30,000—calling for change at a rally at the state Capitol.
Some rallies drew counter-demonstrators, but those crowds were minuscule compared to the mammoth crowds in support of immigration reform.
In Salt Lake City, Jerry Owens, 59, a Navy veteran from Midway wearing a blue Minuteman T-shirt and camouflage pants, held a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.
“I think it’s real sad because these people are really saying it’s OK to be illegal aliens,” Owens said. “What Americans are saying is ‘Yes, come here. But come here legally.’ And I think that’s the big problem.''
Sunday’s demonstrations came ahead of nationwide protests on Monday, April 10, a signal that what began as a string of disparate events—attracting hundreds of thousands of people—has become more coordinated.
“We don’t have a leader like Martin Luther King or César Chávez, but this is now a national immigrant rights movement,” said Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which has helped organize Chicago-area rallies, where over 350,000 rallied.
Activists say the U.S. Senate’s decision last Friday not to push a bill that would have given many undocumented immigrants a chance at citizenship is neither a cause for celebration nor a lost opportunity—it’s a chance to regroup.
And that’s what they plan to do at demonstrations from Florida to Oregon that include school walkouts and marches in over 90 cities.
Religious groups nationwide have been coordinating the protests in recent weeks, along with dozens of unions, schools, and civil rights organizations.
Part of their goal has been to recruit more Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants. Up until recently, most protesters have been Latino and high school or university students.
Many groups had been preparing to rally since December, when the House passed a bill [HR 4437] to build over 700 miles of walls along the U.S.-México border; making criminals of people who helped undocumented immigrants; and making it a felony, rather than a civil infraction, to be in the country without documentation.
HR 4437 also authorizes local police to act as immigration agents, a provision which many police organizations oppose as being too burdensome in their efforts to combat local issues such as crime.
Those mostly local and regional efforts, supported by popular Spanish-language disc jockeys and newspapers such as La Prensa, quickly converted into national plans after hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in dozens of cities last month, culminating March 25 with a 500,000-person rally in Los Angeles.
Different organizers have different agendas, but they do agree on the need to convert energy from protests into massive voter registration drives.
Voter registration and citizenship education initiatives are set to begin in several states after a “Day Without An Immigrant” campaign planned for May 1, an event that asks immigrants nationwide to stay home from work and school, and refrain from buying U.S. products.
“Marches will only get you so far,” said Armando Navarro, coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights, a network of Latino activist groups in Southern California. “There has to be an electoral component to get the Republicans out of the majority.”
Toledo-based FLOC hosts an annual March for Justice, which, this year, is scheduled for April 12th.
FLOC march and rally on April 12
According to event media coordinator, John B. Orozco, “Concerned community members and area teens have been meeting since January 26th to plan the march with FLOC.
“This march is designed to call attention to the need for organization of mistreated immigrants and farm laborers. The students are planning to make this year’s march a walkathon designed to raise money to support the families of laborers, who have died in the fields.”
Students from area high schools, universities and community members will gather on the corner of South and Broadway Avenues on the 12th of April at noon, for a march to Golden Rule Park where a rally will be held.
Ally speakers include: Andrew Jung with attorney David Leopold from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Pastor LaBoy and Pastor Rodas from the Cleveland Association of Latino Pastors, and Taylor Balderas, District Three Council Member.
According to FLOC’s press release of the April 12 event: “The issue of immigration does not exclusively apply to Latinos. Andrew Jung is a prime example of other people living here in the U.S. that have experienced the hardships of the immigration laws.
“Andrew, a freshman at Emmanuel Baptist High School, is a student who knows all to well how the present U.S. policies on immigration can tear families apart.
“His father and mother are natives of South Korea who were recently deported for over staying a visa. Andrew is an American citizen, however, and had the option of going with his parents to Korea or staying here in the U.S. His parents decided it was best for him to remain here while they took on the challenge of adjusting to living in a different and newly developed country.
“Andrew has found living a world away from his family difficult.
“Cases such as these are why FLOC hosts its Annual March for Justice.”
Associated Press writers Anabelle Garay in Dallas, Peter Prengaman in Los Angeles, Elliot Spagat in San Diego, Barry Massey in Santa Fe, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, and Martiga Lohn in St. Paul; and Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report.
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