- The Washington Times - Friday, May 2, 2008

CHICAGO (AP) — Thousands of chanting, flag-waving immigrants and activists rallied in cities across the country yesterday , attempting to reinvigorate calls for immigration reform in a presidential election year in which the economy has taken center stage.

From Washington to Miami to Los Angeles, immigrant rights activists demanded citizenship opportunities for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. and an end to raids and deportations.

“We come here to fight for legalization. We’re people. We have rights,” said Eric Molina, an undocumented factory worker who immigrated to Zion, Ill., from Mexico.

Mr. Molina, his sister and his 13-year-old daughter Erika, a U.S. citizen, were among about 15,000 people who rallied in Chicago in one of the largest demonstrations of the day.

Turnout has fallen sharply since the first nationwide rallies in 2006, when more than 1 million people — at least 400,000 in Chicago alone — clogged streets and brought downtown traffic to a standstill. Activists say this year’s efforts are focused less on protests and more on voter registration and setting an agenda for the next president.



Some said participation likely was lower because many immigrants increasingly fear deportation.

Margot Veranes, a volunteer organizer in Tucson, Ariz., — where 12,000 took to the streets last year but early estimates yesterday put the crowd at about 500 — blamed the turnout on aggressive enforcement by Border Patrol and police.

“People have been stopped and deported in the last week. This is a community living in fear,” said Miss Veranes, a researcher for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. “You never know when you’re going to be stopped by Border Patrol and now the police.”

But she said that’s also why people were marching.

“We’re marching to end the raids and the deportations, but we’re also marching for health care and education and good jobs,” she said.

In the District, immigrant rights groups and social justice organizations were demanding that Prince William County, in Northern Virginia, rescind its anti-illegal immigration measure. They also called for an end to raids and deportations and for establishment of worker centers in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Activists also asked the Republican and Democratic national committees to have their presidential candidates enact immigration reform.

A crowd of about 1,000 gathered on the steps of the Oregon Capitol in Salem to call for changes in immigration and workplace laws within the first 100 days of the next congressional session. Many demanded that Oregon reverse a decision, imposed by the Legislature in February, to require proof of legal residence to get a driver’s license.

But activists say they know it will be a challenge to push their issues to the political forefront.

Immigration reform did not resonate with voters in primary elections who overwhelmingly listed the economy as their top concern. Immigration legislation has stalled and been defeated in the Senate, and presidential candidates have not extensively addressed the issues.

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