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Estimated 300,000 march in Los Angeles immigration protest
Leslie Fulbright, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, May 1, 2006

(05-01) 15:37 PDT Two major protests in the "Day Without Immigrants" already have drawn hundreds of thousands of people.

Thousands of people were still filing out of downtown, where police estimate 300,000 protesters marched to City Hall and back to Olympic Boulevard, when a second march began at MacArthur Park an hour ahead of its scheduled 4 p.m. start.

The afternoon crowd filled MacArthur Park from one side to the other, even as some thousands of people started marching Wilshire Boulevard toward LaBrea Avenue, where a rally is planned at 6 p.m.

Led by Hindi taxi drivers, a mariachi band of day laborers and hundreds of garment workers, the second event was intended for people who did not want to skip work and school.

Many who marched in the first rally also showed up for the aftenoron protests, which Mary Guttierrez of the We Are America Coalition, a co-organizer of the second march, said shows today's rallies are all part of a continuing effort.

"We will continue until we get just and humane immigration reform," Guttierrez said.

In Sacramento, police estimated a crowd of 20,000 rallied at the Capitol before marching through downtown streets. Carrying U.S. and Mexican flags, marchers waved signs and chanted, keeping pace with rhythmic drum beats and periodic notes from brass horns. Organized by the Service Employees Union, the big crowd was a peaceful mix of young and old, families and students, workers and the elderly.

Most business activity in downtown Los Angeles, a key world financial center appears to have ceased for the day: Few people in business suits are on the street, and most storefronts are shuttered with metal grates.

The marchers -- tens of thousands of legal and illegal immigrants and their supporters -- were voicing opposition to a Congressional proposal to tighten border security and clamp down on illegal immigration. A Senate proposal to offer legal status to many people now here legally is still under debate.

Some organizers urged immigrants and their supporters to skip work and boycott all business transactions Monday to show the economic role of immigrants.

So many people were gathered at the intended start point at Olympic Boulevard and Broadway that the crowd surged around the lead marchers. They reached City Hall even before the noon start time, making the crowd at least a mile long.

The parade, which included a 200-piece mariachi band and people of all ethnicities carrying flags and signs and wearing T-shirts with immigration-related slogans, then circled back along Spring Street to the starting point.

Chants ranged from "Aqui estamos, and no nos vamos" -- We're here and we're not going away -- to the traditional "Si, se puede" (Yes, we can).

Signs read "We Pay Taxes Too," "Legalize LA" and "Todos contra el muro," or "Everyone is opposed to the wall," a reference to the 700 miles of new border fencing proposed in legislation passed by the House of Representatives in December.

As the crowd marched some shouted "Hueros, hueros" -- White people, white people! -- into the few storefronts still open, including a Subway sandwich shop and a McDonald's.

The communist and socialists waving red flags and selling papers in the Los Angeles crowd were vastly outnumbered by marchers whose signs and chants focused on immigration.

In Sacramento, police followed the march on foot and by bicycle and motorcycle. They reported no incidents or arrests. "This has been a very well-behaved group, no problems at all," said Officer Bernard Auger. He estimated the crowd at between 15,000 and 20,000.

Most demonstrators waved flags or small signs. One read "Full rights for all immigrants," or "America - land of immigrants." One read: "After the parade, I'm going shopping."

"It should be easier for people to become legalized," said Marylou Perez, 37, of Sacramento. "All these people want to do is come here and work and create a better life for themselves."

Jose Martinez, 42, of Sacramento was one of the last to arrive. He said he was born in Mexico but immigrated as a young man and now has a job with AT&T. "I'm here to support my people," he said. "My parents came here as migrant workers and because of this great country, I got a good education and now I have a great job."

Meanwhile, critics of the rally complained that the business of the Legislature should not have been shutdown Monday to accommodate lawmakers that wanted to participate.

Assemblyman George Plescia, R-San Diego, on Monday charged that Democrat lawmakers were being irresponsible for missing work and participating in various rallies across the state.

"The assembly could have taken up 40 bills on the floor today," he said during a news conference called by Republican lawmakers at the state capitol.

Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, responded by saying there's plenty of other legislative work being done including various committee meetings that were being held Monday.

"This is pretty typical and what I expect them to do," Perata said of the Republicans' news conference. "This is a political publicity stunt."

E-mail Leslie Fulbright, who is reporting from Los Angeles, at