Immigration Rallies Focus On Keeping Families Intact
By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 2, 2007; Page A05
Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in cities across America yesterday, shouting slogans that called for a path to legal residency for about 12 million illegal immigrants and an end to federal deportation raids that have increased during the past year.
A year after a series of similar rallies, yesterday’s protests focused on keeping families intact. That focus appeared aimed at raids that could separate parents who are in the country illegally from children born here who are citizens. More than 3 million American-born children have illegal immigrant parents who are subject to deportation, according to the Urban Institute and the Pew Hispanic Center.
In Chicago, an estimated 150,000 marchers streamed east through the Loop to rally in Grant Park with signs that read “Keep Families United.” In Los Angeles, at least 20,000 demonstrators walked to City Hall with signs that read “Don’t Deport Our Parents.” In New York, roughly 5,000 people gathered in two Manhattan parks, where a paper tree was erected to symbolize broken families. And in Washington, about 450 demonstrators gathered at various places on Capitol Hill, with signs that read “Stop Dividing Families.”
Yesterday’s protests were much smaller than last year’s May Day rallies. In 2006, nearly 1 million demonstrators clogged city streets, and workers who took the day off to show solidarity shut down restaurants, meat processing plants and construction sites.
Since then, the immigration rights movement has faced a backlash. State and local governments have passed laws to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to secure jobs, housing and driver’s licenses. Legislation to provide a path to legalization stalled in Congress, while proposals to increase border security advanced.
In Washington, about 300 Asian activists were bused into the city for visits with politicians on Capitol Hill. Eun Sook Lee, executive director of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium of Los Angeles, which arranged the visit, said one in five Koreans living in the United States is an illegal immigrant.
The trip was an effort to lobby against a recent Bush administration proposal that would force illegal immigrants to leave the country and pay about $10,000 to be allowed back into the United States, participate in a guest worker program and to eventually become citizens.
The administration’s plan would derail efforts for “workable, just and humane immigration reform legislation,” Lee said.
But concern over immigration raids was the key issue in yesterday’s marches.
As he led a small group to another location on Capitol Hill, Jaime Contreras, president of the D.C., Maryland and Virginia National Capital Immigrant Coalition, said the Bush administration “has been very effective in putting fear in the community through all these raids.”
At the New York march, a Mexican immigrant who lives in Jersey City sobbed as her American-born children played at her feet.
“I’m so afraid they’ll separate me from my kids,” said the woman, who identified herself only as Maria.
In Chicago, home to an estimated 400,000 illegal immigrants, march organizer and Irish immigrant Shaun Harkin said, “the focus here and around the country is to stop the raids and deportations and have an impact.”
As the marchers passed, Chicagoans bickered over whether to welcome illegal immigrants.
“I think they should give them an opportunity to become legals,” Amieta Curtis said.
“You can’t let everyone . . . come here,” interjected Cris Pellegrino.
In Los Angeles, stepped-up activity by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was clearly on marchers’ minds. “Stop the raids and deportations,” signs read.
Local Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations recently carried stories about children left in the United States when parents are deported.
Asked why he and his wife were marching, Ricardo Ortiz, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, said he has children ages 18, 8 and 3. “We don’t want to have happen to them what happens to other families, where the kids are here and the parents there,” he said.
Staff writers Peter Slevin and Kari Lydersen in Chicago, Sonya Geis in Los Angeles, Robin Shulman in New York, and N.C. Aizenman in Washington contributed to this report.