WASHINGTON — In protests fueled by anger over a tough anti-illegal
immigrant law in Arizona, tens of thousands of demonstrators joined
marches and rallies Saturday in cities across the country, calling on
Congress to pass an immigration overhaul.
In Los Angeles, the police said the crowd had peaked at 50,000.
Protesters numbered 25,000 in Dallas, more than 10,000 in Chicago and
Milwaukee, in the thousands in San Francisco and here in Washington,
D.C., according to the police and independent estimates. Organizers
said rallies and vigils were held in more than 70 places around the
In Washington, Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois,
was arrested after staging a sit-in on the sidewalk in front of the
White House with about three dozen other people, in front of a crowd of
At a rally before he was arrested, Mr. Gutierrez, speaking in English
and in Spanish, evoked memories of the civil rights movement of the
“There are moments in which you say, ‘We will escalate this
struggle,’ ” he said. “Today they will put handcuffs on us. But one day
we will be free at last in the country we love.”
In all, 35 people were arrested in the sit-in, the United States Park Police said.
At rally after rally across the nation, protesters chanted “shame,
shame, Arizona,” and carried signs saying, “Todos Somos Arizona,” or
“We are All Arizona.”
The bigger demonstrations were far larger than planners had anticipated
in March, when the events were first announced. The protests were
originally called by immigrant advocates who had set May 1 as the
deadline for Congress to introduce overhaul legislation that would
include measures to give legal status to millions of illegal
But organizers said the Arizona legislation, which was signed into law
April 23, had been a watershed event for disparate advocate
organizations, transforming them into something akin to a civil rights
movement with a national profile.
The Arizona law made it a crime to be present in the state without legal immigration status and authorized the police to question people about their status based on a suspicion that they might be illegal immigrants.
Supporters of the law, including Gov. Jan Brewer
of Arizona, a Republican, said the state had to act because the federal
government had failed to enforce the immigration laws. Critics across
the country said the law would lead to racial profiling and spread fear
in immigrant communities.
In Los Angeles, protesters marched through the streets and held a
crowded rally downtown, just down the street from the Cathedral of Our
Lady of the Angels.
Demonstrators waved American flags and signs, including one that said: “We Latinos are the Jews of the 21st century.” Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa told the crowd that a federal immigration overhaul was long overdue.
“Let me be clear about those laws that make suspects out of people
based on the color of their skin,” Mr. Villaraigosa said. “They have no
place in our great country.”
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles drew cheers when he said, “Everyone in God’s eyes is legal.”
“Every time we have an economic downturn, there is a new attack on immigrants,” Cardinal Mahony said.
One Los Angeles protester, Dorien Grunbaum, 67, a teacher at a community college
in the city, said she was there “primarily to support the immigrants in
Arizona. I’m disgusted by what’s happening there,” Ms. Grunbaum said.
No overhaul legislation has been introduced in Congress, and President Obama
said last week that lawmakers “may not have the appetite” for a
volatile debate on immigration this year. A group of Democratic
senators on Thursday presented an outline for an overhaul bill, written
primarily by Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.
In Washington, Mr. Gutierrez sat crossed-legged on the sidewalk in
front of the White House at about 3 p.m., holding a small American flag
and wearing a white T-shirt with red letters that read, “Arrest me not
my friends.” The protesters each held letters that spelled out the
message, “Obama, stop deporting our families.”
Mr. Gutierrez was handcuffed behind his back with plastic cuffs by the
Park Police, and he walked in silence when an officer led him away
along the black wrought-iron fence in front of the White House. Among
others arrested with him were Jaime Contreras, director for Washington,
D.C., of the Service Employees International Union;
Joshua Hoyt, Ali Noorani, Deepak Bhargava, and Gustavo Torres, leaders
of immigrant advocate organizations; and Gregory Cendana, president of
the United States Student Association.
The protesters were arrested for violations of a regulation requiring
people to keep moving when they pass in front of the White House, said
Sergeant David Schlosser, a spokesman for the Park Police.
In Chicago, Mr. Obama’s hometown, thousands of people marched through
downtown with signs that said, “Being brown is not a crime” and “Hey
Obama! Don’t deport my mama.”
Many of the Chicago protesters expressed frustration at what they saw as the president’s lack of action on immigration.
Dulce Blanco, 48, was at the rally with a church group. She said she
voted for Mr. Obama after attending a meeting where he said he would
pass immigration reform. “If they don’t pass reform, we won’t vote for
Obama again,” she said in Spanish.
Guadalupe Concepcion, a 22-year-old student in Chicago, began to cry
during one of the speeches. She said she had been an illegal immigrant
until she married her husband and that her parents faced discrimination
because they are not here legally.
“The Arizona law is just plain racist,” she said. “It happened with
African-Americans in the past, and now they want to do the same thing
Addressing the Chicago crowd, the Rev. Jesse Jackson
encouraged a boycott of Arizona, saying the law would encourage racial
profiling. “Arizona has become the Selma,” he said. “It is a showdown.”
In downtown Dallas, demonstrators gathered at the Cathedral Shrine of
the Virgin of Guadalupe, named for the patroness of Mexico, and marched
to City Hall. Many carried American flags, or draped them over their
Among the widening reverberations from the Arizona law, the Alpha Phi
Alpha Fraternity, a historically black organization whose members
included Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Justice Thurgood Marshall,
announced that it was moving its annual convention in July to Las Vegas
from Phoenix. The fraternity said it had been expecting as many as
10,000 people, including members and their families, to come to the
The fraternity’s board decided that it could not host a meeting in a
state with “a law that could put the civil rights and the very dignity
of our members at risk during their stay in Phoenix,” said Herman
Mason, the general president.
In Phoenix on Saturday, a far smaller and more subdued crowd of about
1,000 people gathered by 3 p.m. on the lawn at the State Capitol.
Most had handmade signs, including one with Governor Brewer wearing a
black witch hat and reading “Jan Brewer: Arizona’s wicked witch of the
The rally was primarily peaceful with the mostly Latino crowd marching
around the Capitol, but a few arguments broke out with people who
supported the law.
One demonstrator, Martina Paz, 42, of Phoenix, held a photograph of her
23-year-old son, Adan Buelna, who she said was in the Army stationed in
Texas and was waiting to be deployed to the Middle East.
“My son will be protecting the rights and liberty of people on the
other side of the world, but who is going to protect our rights here in
Arizona,” Ms. Paz said.
She said that she feared that even though she and her husband have
submitted applications to become legal residents, they will be stopped
by the police and possibly be deported.