L.A. Activists March for Immigration Bill
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
This year the demonstrations were tiny by comparison - one was indoors - but the message is the same, as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
CARRIE KAHN: Unidentified Man: (Singing) Oh, say can you see...
KAHN: Unidentified Group: (Spanish spoken).
KAHN: For several hours, dozens of elected officials addressed the smaller- than-hoped-for gathering. Barely half the 10,000-seat arena was filled.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: (Spanish spoken) Los Angeles.
KAHN: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the crowd that his proudest moment was addressing half a million people on the streets of the city last year. He says his message hasn't changed.
VILLARAIGOSA: (Spanish spoken).
KAHN: Please, Villaraigosa said, we want to be part of the American dream. Forty-seven-year-old Maurillo Centeno(ph) says he wants a part of that dream. He's been in the U.S. illegally for 17 years. Centeno marched in the streets last year and says it's been tough waiting for Congress to act.
MAURILLO CENTENO: (Spanish spoken).
KAHN: He says it's been 10 years since he was able to go back to Mexico to see his daughters. But he and others were brought to their feet by the encouraging words of Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. He's introduced an immigration bill that would let illegal immigrants become citizens after meeting several conditions.
LUIS GUTIERREZ: (Spanish spoken).
KAHN: Gutierrez said under his bill illegal immigrants could get a visa, after six years apply to be citizens and finally come out from the shadows. But backstage, the congressman admitted he faces an uphill fight.
GUTIERREZ: You have to get one out of every four Republicans in the House of Representatives to vote and favor this bill. And if we do that, we will get comprehensive immigration reform.
KAHN: Meanwhile, across town, protesters' attempts to form a human chain around L.A.'s federal building fell short; they didn't have enough people. And unlike last year's marches, this time counter-protesters showed up. Ira Mehlman of the anti-illegal immigration group FAIR says Americans were insulted by last year's marches and rally organizers have obviously lost their momentum.
IRA MEHLMAN: It seems to me that if the organizers thought they could get 500,000 people back on the streets of America's major cities, they wouldn't be holding indoor rallies.
KAHN: Organizers and marchers yesterday, like Allegra Padilla(ph), tried to put a positive spin on the low turnout.
ALLEGRA PADILLA: I think the momentum is taking a different form right now, because people marched and then they voted. And now we have to think of different ways to keep the pressure up.
KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News.
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