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Reply to "Illegal Immigration"

Half a million march against US immigration reform

Demonstrators march in Los Angeles, California, to protest of proposed illegal immigration legislation. Half a million protesters paralyzed downtown Los Angeles, demanding amnesty for undocumented immigrants and rejection of a proposed law that would drastically tighten US immigration rules.(AFP/Getty Images/J. Emilio Flores)

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Half a million protesters paralyzed downtown Los Angeles, demanding amnesty for undocumented immigrants and rejection of a proposed law that would drastically tighten US immigration rules.

A sea of people, many wearing white T-shirts and waving US flags and flags of their nations of origin -- especially Mexico -- flooded the main Los Angeles avenues in a peaceful and sometimes festive protest.

Some marchers blasted trumpets and played Mexican mariachi tunes, while others waved signs and handed out flyers detailing "immigrant rights."

"We have got to stop the approval of anti-immigrant reforms, demand a migration reform that is humane and fair, and not racist," said Javier Rodriguez of the March 25 Coalition, which organized the event.

The Coalition represents dozens of pro-immigrant groups as well as farmer, labor, religious and student groups.

To the cry of "Amnesty for all!" the crowd surged towards the office of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, where they heard from the mayor and other community leaders.

At the height of the rally there were "at least 500,000 people," said Sarah Faden with the Los Angeles Police Department.

LAPD Sergeant J. Baker was stunned by the size of the crowd. "I have never seen a demonstration this big in years and years here in LA," he said.

One protest organizer, Nativo Lopez of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), put the crowd at more than a million spread out across the city.

The rally began soon after President George W. Bush defended his plan to regularize some of the undocumented workers in his weekly radio address.

"America is a nation of immigrants, and we're also a nation of laws. And our immigration laws are in need of reform," said Bush.

Bush wants to regularize the status of illegal workers who "fill jobs that Americans will not do."

His plan "would create a legal way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers," he said.

Bush spoke as Congress prepares to debate a much stricter immigration reform bill that targets illegal immigrants, who account for 24 percent of farm workers, 17 percent of cleaners and 14 percent of construction workers.

The law would make all undocumented immigrants criminals, require all employers to verify the immigration status of their employees, and construct a wall along much of the US-Mexico border.

The US House of Representatives has already passed the bill. In the Senate, a companion bill was introduced that also would make it a felony to be in the United States without proper immigration documents.

"We are human beings," said Juan Carlos Lopez, a Mexican construction worker at the march who migrated illegally to the United States five years ago. "We want a humane reform to immigration laws without racism that will allow us to work."

There is an estimated 12 million undocumented migrants living in the United States, a large percentage from Latin America, especially Mexico.

About 15 percent of the US population of nearly 300 million is of Hispanic origin, according to census figures. The number includes both recent immigrants and families who have been in the region for centuries.

In the state of California, with a population of nearly 34 million, nearly one-third are of Hispanic origin.

Los Angeles, the largest city on the US west coast, has a population of more than 9.5 million -- 4.2 million of whom are of Hispanic origin, including Mayor Villaraigosa.

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