Denver draws major crowd |

Denver draws major crowd

Thousands of people attend a pro-immigrant rally, Monday, May 1, 2006, in Denver. Wearing symbolic white and waving both American and Mexican flags, tens of thousands of people marched through Denver on Monday, hoping to demonstrate the economic power of immigrants, illegal and legal, across the country. (AP Photo/The Rocky Mountain News, Maria J. Avila) ** MANDATORY CREDIT TV OUT MAGS OUT **

DENVER – In strollers, riding their parents’ shoulders or just scampering along with an estimated 75,000 people marching to Colorado’s Capitol, the number of children participating in Monday’s sprawling display of the economic might of immigrants roughly equaled the number of adults.It was a “family-oriented” day, which could help explain why the march and rally, which spilled off the Capitol grounds onto nearby parks, remained peaceful with no arrests reported, police spokesman Sonny Jackson said.Third-grader Nadine Lugo joined her parents along the 2.7-mile route from Viking Park in north Denver to the Capitol. “I think she needs to be here with us because these are her people,” said her mother, Melanie Lugo.”We are the backbone of what America is, legal or illegal, it doesn’t matter,” Lugo said. “We butter each other’s bread.”Crowds gathered in Lafayette, Fort Morgan, Colorado Springs, Alamosa and other towns around the state, forcing some businesses to shut down or cut back on staffing as their employees took part. Hundreds of students took the day off, from Denver to the mountain valleys near Aspen.Denver schools officials said some schools reported absentee rates exceeding 70 percent. At Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, assistant principal Barbara Mason said things were much quieter than usual.”I understand if they are choosing to be out because it is a movement,” she said. “We encouraged them to be here, but we knew a lot wouldn’t be.”When the Denver march reached the skyscrapers downtown, their chants of “Si, se puede” (Spanish for Yes we can), and “Hoy marchamos, manana votamos” (Today we march, tomorrow we vote) echoed off the concrete and glass walls. There seemed to be as many American flags as there were Mexican banners.

The numbers of marchers Monday exceeded a March 25 rally that drew 50,000.Former Denver Mayor Federico Pena, who now works as an investment banker, looked out over the crowd and called it an “ocean of beauty.””I’m here to say to the American people and to the people of Colorado that we should admire them for cleaning our buildings, building our houses … and yes, even fighting today in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Pena said.”For those who say it’s about national security, I say the immigrant workers who come to America are not commandeering airplanes and flying them into buildings,” Pena said.Pena called for a guest-worker program that upholds immigrant workers’ rights and provides health care, then closed with a political reminder.”We are united by a just cause. Let us back our voice with our vote,” Pena said.About 35 to 40 anti-immigration demonstrators got into shouting matches with marchers as they were leaving the rally. Among them were Ron and Marge Mason of Thornton, a Denver suburb.”We’re tired of seeing the illegals coming in,” Ron Mason said.

Added his wife, who is a radiology technician: “Every week I get people in the hospital telling me I have to learn Spanish because that’s the way the country’s going to be. It infuriates me. I’m paying for their health care.”Fred Elbel, who formed a group called Defend Colorado Now to campaign for a November ballot initiative that would deny non-emergency state services to immigrants, said demonstrations like Monday’s march were a big help.”They are waking up the American people,” Elbel said. “People are irate and upset, they can’t believe this is happening in their country. These rallies are by people who are professed illegals demanding rights they don’t have, demanding amnesty and eventually demanding citizenship.”Denver police did not immediately report any arrests and for the most part the demonstration was calm. Volunteers and uniformed officers formed lines to keep the anti-immigration protesters separate from the demonstrators.Pedro Pasillas, 24, of Denver took the day off his job at a recycling plant. He said he is a U.S. citizen and he marched because he felt he needed to support people like his parents, who came from Mexico.”Eventually, our voices are going to be heard,” he said.Tarl Ford, 33, a Denver contractor, shut down his business so he and his four employees could march.”It’s an important time for us to make our voices heard, mostly on behalf of the people who don’t have a voice,” he said.

Merlin Madrid, an instructor at Metropolitan State College who was at the rally, said she was offended by a U.S. House bill that would make millions of illegal immigrants felons.”They do jobs that most Americans don’t want to do. I did those sort of jobs as a teenager and it helped me get to college,” said Madrid, whose family roots in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley stretch back generations.Restaurants shut down in some mountain towns and Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill said it closed 29 restaurants, including 16 in Minnesota and 13 more in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Meat producers nationwide were hit hard by the protests; Cargill Meat Solutions alone gave more than 15,000 workers the day off, including some in Fort Morgan.El Centro Humanitario, a nonprofit agency in Denver that helps day laborers, was closed because its managers helped organize the rally. There was little change at Labor Finders, a temporary labor office with several branches in the Denver area, spokesman Tim Kaffer said.”The people who come in here really can’t afford to take a day off,” he said. “Their daily pay just takes care of their hotel and food.”Eileen Mast, 58, of Aurora said she has spent the last year studying the immigration issue and is convinced companies are exploiting illegal immigrants by paying them low wages and not giving them benefits. She said the way to solve that is to give illegal immigrants a chance to earn U.S. citizenship.”Yes, we do need borders, but people are all equal,” Mast said.

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