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Immigration Rallies Get A Boost From Arizona Law

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An estimated half-million immigrants and their allies turned out across the nation Saturday to rally for immigration reform and against Arizona's tough new immigration law. The largest gathering was in Los Angeles, where some 50,000 people showed up.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

An estimated half million immigrants and their supporters turned out yesterday to rally for immigration reform and against Arizona's tough new immigration law.

NPR's Ted Robbins has the story.

(Soundbite of chanting)

TED ROBBINS: The chant was familiar, Si se puede - yes we can. But the focus of yesterday's marches, starting with this one in downtown Los Angeles, was new. Disappointment, anger and resentment that Arizona's new law requiring local police and sheriff's deputies to question anyone they suspect is in the country illegally.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the crowd that it will lead to racial profiling.

Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Los Angeles, California): Laws that require law enforcement professionals to profile one against the other have no place in the United States of America that I love...

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: ...that you love, that we want to be a part of.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ROBBINS: In Washington, D.C., a few hundred protestors gathered on a warm day in a park in front of the White House.

Unidentified Man #1: We all are Arizona.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man #1: We are all Arizona...

ROBBINS: They spoke about the promises President Obama made during the campaign to tackle immigration reform. A small group, including a congressman, was arrested for civil disobedience.

Fifty-eight-year-old Honduran immigrant Osvaldo Ramos traveled from Miami to D.C. to protest the Arizona law.

Mr. OSVALDO RAMOS: (Foreign language spoken)

ROBBINS: He says, I think the Arizona law is a violation. It's racist because it's like apartheid, because it singles out brown. Being Latino means we will be discriminated.

In Phoenix, several thousand people marched around the state capitol, then rallied in front of it to protest the new law. And here, they're really taking it personally.

Unidentified Man #2: You're hurting my state. Stop 1070.

(Soundbite of chanting)

ROBBINS: Javier Reyes Ojeda is a native of Phoenix. He says the new law, Senate Bill 1070, is already harming Arizona's reputation and its economy, months before it's scheduled to take effect. Ojeda's suggestion: Put troops on the border to keep out drug smugglers, don't punish every illegal immigrant.

Mr. JAVIER REYES OJEDA: And I'm with securing our borders. I'm with that. Now, we're not going to argue that. You know what I'm saying? But the people that are here and the people that are hard working and the people who are helping, let's help them.

ROBBINS: Reza Isela Romney(ph) has been in Arizona 30 years. She's a citizen but she voiced the worst fears of the Hispanic community - exaggerated though they may be.

Ms. REZA ISELA ROMNEY: This law discriminate all of us. And if we don't stop it and stop all these people making this stupid law, they're going to just send us to the chambers.

ROBBINS: To the chambers?

Ms. ROMNEY: Yes, I believe.

ROBBINS: Both Romney and Ojeda says they're tired of people lumping all immigrants together with drug smugglers and criminals.

Mr. BOB MORRIS: I know a lot of them are hard working people.

ROBBINS: Bob Morris knows that but he says he doesn't care. Morris stood slightly apart from the crowd. The short, older white man from Lake Havasu, Arizona, wore a cap and T-shirt saying: Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

Mr. MORRIS: They came the wrong way in.

ROBBINS: So what should we do with them?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, I think they need to go to the back of the line and come in the right way.

ROBBINS: Even if it takes decades?

Mr. MORRIS: However long it takes.

ROBBINS: Morris was among just a handful of pro-1070 folks. This was a day for thousands here and tens of thousands across the country to use Arizona's new law to prod the Obama administration and Congress into action on a national level.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Phoenix.

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