Immigration-Reform Protests Move to Capitol Hill

Immigration-reform protesters take their rallies to Capitol Hill as the Senate begins a two-week process of debating changes to immigration laws. Massive rallies around the nation have protested legislation that would crack down on illegal immigrants.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

NPR's Andrea Seabrook was also at the Capitol today as demonstrators croweded the west lawn singing the old Latino protest song De Colroes.

(Soundbite of protestors singing "De Colores")

ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:

Demonstrators crowded the west lawn of the Capitol Building singing the old Latino protest song, De Colores.

(Soundbite of protestors at Capitol Building singing protest song De Colores)

SEABROOK: The words of this song celebrating the springtime colors of country fields are fitting on this gorgeous sunny day. They're also a metaphor for the many colors of skin that these protestors say make up a vibrant culture.

Bishop JOSE RODRIGUEZ MARIN (Hispanic Church of God, Nashville, Tennessee): (Speaking Spanish)

SEABROOK: We're not criminals, says Bishop Jose Rodriguez Marin, of the Hispanic Church of God in Nashville, Tennessee. We're children of God. We're professionals and parents. And we're here, he says, because this is God's land. Religious leaders of all kinds are protesting one provision of the immigration bill in particular, already passed by the House, the one that would make it a crime for charity workers to help illegal immigrants. Episcopal Archdeacon Michael Kendall of New York led the crowd in prayer.

Archdeacon MICHAEL KENDALL (Episcopal archdeacon, New York): We pledge ourselves to oppose and resist this legislation in the halls of government, in the courts, and, if necessary, we will go to jail.

SEABROOK: In a sign of their defiance, the religious leaders then handcuffed themselves to one another and slowly marched up the lawn to the Senate Office Building, where the Judiciary Committee was contemplating the new immigration law. Among those waving flags and praying with the leaders was Robert Aguirre, a construction worker with a ponytail, originally from central Mexico. When asked whether he came to the U.S. legally, Aguirre responds, who came here legally?

Mr. ROBERT AGUIRRE (Construction worker originally from Mexico): I didn't went to much school, but I know a little bit of history. No one came legally. It started from the beginning. The only real Americans, I think, it was the Indians, years ago.

(Soundbite of protestors chanting)

SEABROOK: Signs read Reunificaci´┐Żn Familia, Keep Families Together. Si, Se Puede, Yes, We Can. Justicia y Dignidad, Justice and Dignity. Tony Richmond looks a little awkward. He came with three of his work buddies at the request of their labor union. But they all thought the protest was to support stronger immigration laws. Now Richmond is hanging back a bit.

Mr. TONY RICHMOND (U.S. worker): We're out of work now. And if you just let anybody come over here, pretty soon we'll be like China. We'll be overrun.

SEABROOK: But he doesn't blame the immigrants who come here, either.

Mr. RICHMOND: If they want to work, you know, I mean, a lot of black folks don't want to work. They're lazy. A lot of white folks don't want to take certain jobs. They're lazy, too. You got a Spanish dude come over here, make five dollars a week, and then they give them nine, ten dollars an hour, (bleep) they're going to break their back.

SEABROOK: Even Richmond agrees with the main rallying cry of today's demonstration, that illegal immigrants are not criminals. Like generations of Americans before them, the protestors say, they're just poor people looking for work. Organizers hope this and the waves of demonstrations all over the United States will influence the immigration law taking shape in Congress.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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