Thousands march in L.A.
New Arizona law prompts protests
LOS ANGELES – Galvanized by Arizona’s tough new law against illegal immigrants, tens of thousands of marchers took to the streets in Los Angeles on Saturday as the city led the nation in May Day turnout to press for federal immigration reform.
As many as 60,000 immigrants and their supporters joined a peaceful but boisterous march through downtown Los Angeles to City Hall, waving American flags, tooting horns and holding signs that blasted the Arizona law. The legislation, which is set to take effect in midsummer, makes it a crime to be in Arizona without legal status and requires police to check for immigration papers.
Although the crowd was roughly half as large as police projections, it was the largest May Day turnout since 2006, when anger over federal legislation that would have criminalized illegal immigrants and those who aid them brought out more than 1 million protesters nationwide. Since then, most activists have de-emphasized street actions in favor of change at the ballot box through promoting citizenship and voter registration.
But this year is different. Outrage over the Arizona law, continued deportations and frustration over continued congressional delay in passing federal immigration reform prompted activists nationwide to urge massive street protests on this traditional day of celebrating workers’ rights.
That call was heeded by marchers like Yobani Velasquez, a 32-year-old Guatemala native and U.S. legal resident. He said the Arizona law energized him to come to Los Angeles march.
“It’s a racist and unfair law,” said the Sun Valley truck driver. “It hurts parents and children.”
Rallies in more than 90 other cities drew thousands of people from New York to Phoenix. In Washington, D.C., thousands cheered as 35 immigration rights advocates, including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., were arrested in front of the White House after they disobeyed police orders by sitting on the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue, calling on President Barack Obama to move immigration reform forward.
But the national epicenter for opposition to the Arizona law has become Los Angeles. City officials have called for a boycott of the state, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has likened the law to Nazism and activists put aside past differences to stage a unified march. Five coalitions representing more than 150 labor, faith and immigrant rights organizations worked closely with Spanish-language media to publicize the call to rally, according to Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
“There was unanimous sentiment nationally and locally that we have to mobilize strong on May 1,” Salas said. “It’s a message to President Obama that we want immigration reform and an end to massive deportations of our community, and a special message to Republicans to stop getting in the way of reform and supporting hateful laws in Arizona.”