- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 2, 2012

ATLANTA — While a black preacher told about 100 immigration protesters that incarcerated blacks and detained immigrants faced similar challenges, Jesse Morgan stood to one side of the May Day demonstrators, holding a large sign that read, “Radical Queers Resist.”

Although the rally was geared toward illegal immigrants, the 24-year-old Georgia State sociology major said gays can relate, too, because they often face discrimination.

“And besides,” he said, “there are queers who are undocumented.”

Over the last several years, May Day rallies in the United States have been dominated by activists pushing for a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. But since 2006, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets in cities across America, the rallies have gotten smaller, less focused and increasingly splintered by any number of groups with a cause.

In New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., May Day protests were dominated by Occupy activists, a sign of how far the immigration reform movement has fallen off the radar.

Immigration activists say they are not worried about decreasing numbers at rallies because their focus the last few years has been more on getting eligible immigrants to become U.S. citizens and vote.

Gustavo Madrigal, a 20-year-old illegal immigrant who attended the Atlanta May Day rally, said he keeps attending the rallies because he has “always been taught that an American doesn’t give up.”

Mr. Madrigal, who came from Mexico with his parents when he was 9, is applying for scholarships and doing fundraisers in an attempt to raise $59,000 to go to Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

“I’m not asking for a handout, free housing or health care. I just want a chance,” he said.

Since the last major immigration reform in 1986, which extended amnesty to millions in the country illegally, activism has ebbed and flowed.

But in 2009 and 2010, even while controlling both houses and the presidency, Democrats couldn’t pass immigration reform as health care and the economy took center stage. After Democrats took a beating in the 2010 elections, immigration reform had become all but taboo.

“We have been given so much lip service that our lips are sore,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles.

Mr. Cabrera acknowledged that the immigration reform movement was at a low point, with few prospects for change in the near future. Many believe that for major reform to happen, millions more Hispanics needed to become U.S. citizens and vote.

Meanwhile, for illegal immigrants, daily life has gotten harder. Deportations under Mr. Obama have gone up sharply. The annual average since 2009 is around 400,000, about 30 percent higher than under President George W. Bush, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

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