May Day Immigration Marches Lose Some Steam

May Day immigration marches draw tens of thousands of people, capping a year of political activism by organizers who want immigration laws overhauled. But turnout for Tuesday's demonstrations was down from a year ago.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A nationwide day of immigration rallies was mostly peaceful yesterday - mostly. An exception came in Los Angeles last night. That's where police tried to move a crowd that did not want to move.

NPR's Carrie Kahn was watching to see what happened next.

CARRIE KAHN: Downtown Los Angeles looked and sounded a lot like it did a year ago, except on a much smaller scale. There were far few marchers, but demonstrators did manage to fill 10 city blocks, waving American and Mexican flags and chanting familiar slogans.

(Soundbite of a crowd chanting)

KAHN: For protester Carla Alfaro(ph), the fear of being separated from her husband who's here illegally brought her out to the streets again.

Ms. CARLA ALFARO (Protester): We're going to keep on doing the marches and, you know, sending e-mails until someone listens to us.

KAHN: The marches lasted well into the evening, moving from downtown east in MacArthur Park. That's where the mood changed.

(Soundbite of sirens, motorcycle engines)

KAHN: Motorcycle police revved their engines in front of a line of protesters, trying to direct the crowd off the streets and into the park where immigrant rights activists were giving speeches and listening to music.

(Soundbite of sirens)

KAHN: But that turned into a standoff, as some members of the crowd refused to move.

Unidentified Man: Get on the sidewalk! Get on the sidewalk!

KAHN: As officers yelled, a small group of protesters threw bottles, sticks and Coke cans at police. Within minutes, lines of officers in riot gear swept into the park, firing rubber bullets and ordering everyone out

(Soundbite of helicopter engine)

Unidentified Man: This is the Los Angeles police department. Everybody must leave (unintelligible).

KAHN: L.A. police helicopters circling the area around the park - they're circling, telling everybody this is an unlawful assembly, and if they don't leave, they will be arrested. However, most inside the park - including families with small children, street vendors and television crew - didn't hear the orders to disperse until police were already in the crowd.

Several TV cameramen and reporters were pushed and hit by police, including an NPR member station reporter from Los Angeles. She was treated at a local hospital. L.A. police chief William Bratton says he will aggressively investigate the treatment of the media.

Mr. WILLIAM BRATTON (Police Chief, LAPD): As well as to review all that occurred here this afternoon in terms of use a force by the Los Angeles Police Department, its members, and the use of force by some elements of the crowd.

KAHN: Marches were more peaceful in other cities around the country, including New York, Washington, D.C. and the largest march of the day in Chicago.

(Soundbite of marching music)

KAHN: While much smaller than last year's protest, many in the crowd say they were motivated to march because of stepped-up deportations and roundups of illegal immigrants, and most recently, a daytime raid in a popular strip mall in the city's little village.

Mayor Richard Daley called on the government to stop its heavy-handed actions.

Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Chicago): Will you please stop dividing our families? Our nation is one of compassion and understanding, and we have to understand that this country was built by immigrants - our past, our present and future.

KAHN: It was the recent workplace raids that brought out many of the demonstrators, not just in Chicago, but across the country. Protester Alejandra Canterra(ph) traveled two hours by bus to get to the L.A. protest. She said she's angry that government agents are raiding workplaces, and she wants Congress to pass immigration reform now.

Ms. ALEJANDRA CANTERRA (Protester): (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: She says many of us have been here for years, and they won't let our children go to college and get good jobs. But despite the day's violent ends in Los Angeles, most of the demonstrators say they hope lawmakers will pay attention to their message and give them a way to stay in the country legally.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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Turnout Is Lower at L.A. Immigration Rallies

It's been a year since more than a million people took to the streets in a nationwide May Day demonstration for immigration reform.

Today, the demonstrators are back, holding rallies and marches from New York to California. But the turnout is a fraction of what it was a year ago. Downtown Los Angeles is one of the places where those events are taking place.

This year, the focus is on pressuring Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform. But much of the anger prompted by last year's failed effort to criminalize illegal immigration is gone.

Authorities say the May Day turnout could still be significant enough to bring normal business in downtown L.A. to a screeching halt.

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