Immigration Bill Sparks Huge L.A. Protest Angry over a bill that would crack down on illegal immigrants, marchers support a rival measure that would give legal status to most undocumented immigrants. They're getting a big push from Spanish-language media.
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Immigration Bill Sparks Huge L.A. Protest

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Immigration Bill Sparks Huge L.A. Protest

Immigration Bill Sparks Huge L.A. Protest

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From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

A huge but peaceful crowd jammed the streets of downtown Los Angeles yesterday to send a message to lawmakers on Capital Hill.

Five hundred thousand mostly Latino demonstrators turned out to protest the recently passed House Immigration bill. It was the largest of several recent marches and rallies around the country,

And as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, protesters say there's more to come.

(Soundbite of immigration protesters in Los Angeles)

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

The sea of people stretched more than 20 city blocks as protesters held signs reading America is made of immigrants and Work and hope aren't crimes. Many shouted into bullhorns, played kazoos and chanted familiar slogans like Yes we can, in Spanish.

(Soundbite of protesters chanting)

Unidentified Child: (foreign spoken)

KAHN: Veronica Clemente(ph) helped her 4-year-old daughter with the chant, and says she's worried about what will happen if Congress passes the legislation and cracks down on illegal immigrants like herself.

Ms. VERONICA CLEMENTE (Protester): (foreign spoken)

KAHN: Clemente says she fears she'll be deported and asks then who will take care of her daughter, a U.S. citizen. Many in the crowd were confused about exactly what the House bill would do. And at times, the demonstration seemed less about pending legislation and more about Latino unity.

People waved U.S., Mexican, and Guatemalan flags. One man even added the French flag to the mix; it was emblazoned on his white chef's coat.

Mr. RAMONE PARA: (foreign spoken)

KAHN: Ramone Para plays El Chef on a popular Spanish language television network.

Mr. PARA: (foreign spoken)

KAHN: Para said he came to this country illegally some fifteen years ago, hiding in a truck full of oranges, and doesn't want to see the doors closed for others now. He urged lawmakers to grant amnesty to the more than ten million illegal immigrants in the country.

While the march was organized by religious union and activist groups, credit for the high turnout was given to widespread publicity on Spanish language radio, especially by morning drive-time host Eddie Sotelo, known as El Piolin.

Chanting USA, USA, Sotelo and the crowd responsively yelled, We came to the country not to hurt it, but to get ahead.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa echoed the sentiment.

Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Los Angeles): And we come together to say, we come together to say that we are workers, not criminals. That we work hard, we pay our taxes. We live by the rules, and want this great America to take us into account.

KAHN: A few blocks away, Francisco Sandeval(ph), who couldn't get near City Hall because of the crowd, tried to catch the action on his radio. The city bus driver says he hopes lawmakers listen to the thousands who came to march.

Mr. FRANCISCO SANDEVAL (Los Angeles): They have to recognize that we are a force in this country. That we do jobs that nobody want to do, okay? Who going to pick up the fields? Who going to work at the restaurants, hotels, and you name it?

KAHN: Few counter-protesters could be seen in the crowd. Holding a small camcorder and shaking his head in amazement at the masses. William Mill(ph) says there has to be an orderly immigration to this country.

Mr. WILLIAM MILL (Los Angeles): Anybody should be welcome to come to this country, but we should be allowed to have rules and regulations and to determine who comes and when they come.

KAHN: Mill says he hopes the Senate passes equally tough legislation against illegal immigration when they begin debating in the coming days. But Lourdes Soto(ph), an office manager in nearby San Fernando, says she hopes lawmakers remember that immigrants count.

Ms. LORDES SOTO (San Fernando, California): (foreign spoken)

KAHN: Pointing to a huge sign carried by one protester, a gaping giant awakening, Soto says the huge turnout here is just a fraction of the immigrants willing to take to the streets.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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