Pro-Immigrant March Planned for Costa Mesa, Calif.

Organizers of last week's massive pro-immigrant march in Los Angeles have turned their sights to Costa Mesa in Orange County. The city has allied itself with U.S. Immigration and Customs to question and detain illegal immigrants. Opponents of that practice are planning a protest rally for Saturday.

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There were more protests in California today over changes to immigration laws. In San Diego, an estimated two to four thousand students demonstrated in the city's Chicano Park. They waved Mexican flags and chanted, "We are not criminals." More marches are planned this weekend around California, and organizers have selected a new target. It's a small city south of Los Angeles, where local police say they'll start questioning and possibly detaining illegal immigrants.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

Costa Mesa is one of those new Southern California cities that have sprouted up between freeway exits. A former orange grove best known for its upscale shopping mall, now this Orange County community 40 miles south of LA is shaping up as the next battleground in what some are calling a new wave of Latino activism. Costa Mesa is a target because it's training its local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws, the first city in the country to do so.

It was Mayor Allan Mansoor's idea to rid a city of illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

Mayor ALLAN MANSOOR (Costa Mesa, California): What we're proposing in Costa Mesa is going to focus on major offenders, whether it's a car thief or a burglar or something more serious like rape, robbery, or a gang-related crime, drug-related crime. I believe it's a very reasonable expectation that when someone commits a crime, if they're here illegally, they should be deported.

DEL BARCO: The policy has divided the city, where a third of its 100,000 residents are Latino. Anti-immigrant groups like the Minutemen applaud the mayor's move, but the police chief opposes it and many small merchants say their businesses have declined since Costa Mesa officials decided to start questioning illegal immigrants.

Mr. JORGE RODRIGUEZ (Immigrants' rights activist): This is just the tip of the iceberg where these people are going to try to move local law enforcement to become deputized agents of the INS, and begin harassing and intimidating workers throughout the country.

DEL BARCO: Immigrants' rights activist Jorge Rodriguez, who helped organize last Saturday's March in L.A., says protestors will be picketing in Costa Mesa tomorrow. He says as the Senate and Congress hash out new immigration policies, the Costa Mesa rally is just a sneak preview of targets to come.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: And what we see with all these mobilizations is a new phase, and a heightened phase in the civil rights movement of Latinos in this country.

DEL BARCO: The success of last Saturday's immigrant rights march in L.A. was greater than even its organizers had expected. They called it a Latino Tsunami.

Spanish language radio DJs helped mobilize the crowd, which featured an unprecedented number of undocumented immigrants demonstrating in the streets. Some say the pressure convinced the Senate to back down from harsher language in its proposed legislation.

Mr. JAIME REGALADO (California State University, Los Angeles): If immigrants in Los Angeles are emboldened enough, whether they're documented or undocumented, to take to the streets, that has a ripple effect.

DEL BARCO: Professor Jaime Regalado is an expert in Latino issues at Cal State University in Los Angeles. He says it may be too early to call what's happening now a genuine movement of immigrant workers, but it may be the start of one.

Mr. REGALADO: We seeing a new age someplace, we're not entirely sure where it's going to lead. And so all of a sudden there are heavy expectations and a lot of pressure on the organizers to produce the next step.

DEL BARCO: Despite warnings to stay in school, California high school students say they'll continue to stage walkouts to defend their undocumented parents and relatives. And immigrant rights organizers like Lativo Lopez are planning a series of demonstrations in April, leading up to a May Day boycott.

Mr. LATIVO LOPEZ (Immigrant rights organizer): The goal is really to defeat the legislation, okay? Everything, all these marches, those are tactics to defeat that Sensenbrenner legislation, Sensenbrenner-type measures, and any senate version.

DEL BARCO: Immigrants advocates say they have momentum on their side. But as other political movements from the past have learned, the hard part is maintaining it.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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