‘Ocean of beauty’ " immigration rallies draw thousands in Colorado | SummitDaily.com

‘Ocean of beauty’ " immigration rallies draw thousands in Colorado

the associated press

DENVER ” Restaurant workers in Carbondale. Construction workers in Loveland. Mushroom pickers in Alamosa, meatpackers in Longmont and housekeepers in Broomfield.

Virtually every corner of Colorado was touched in some way by people who took time off Monday to demonstrate the economic might and prominence of the nation’s immigrants. Many marched in their hometowns, while others stayed home or refused to buy anything in a dollars-and-cents protest.

Thousands turned out in Colorado Springs and Boulder, while the state’s biggest rally drew a police-estimated 75,000 to the Capitol in Denver.

Among the crowd was Pedro Pasillas, 24, who 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,” Pasillas said.

The march was mostly peaceful, though police lined up to separate the crowd from 35 to 40 anti-immigration demonstrators, including Ron and Marge Mason of suburban Thornton.

“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,” said Marge Mason, a radiology technician. “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 the rallies were waking up America.

“These rallies are by people who are professed illegals demanding rights they don’t have, demanding amnesty and eventually demanding citizenship,” he said.

Things were much calmer in the crowd. Former Denver Mayor Federico Pena, who now works as an investment banker, stepped up to the podium at the Capitol 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.

Smaller rallies were held in towns such as Avon, Glenwood Springs, Fort Morgan, Alamosa and Greeley. Myriad businesses shut down or cut back on staffing as their employees took part. 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.

Hundreds of students took the day off, too.

“We encouraged them to be here, but we knew a lot wouldn’t be,” said Barbara Mason, the assistant principal at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.

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.

Eileen Mast, 58, of Aurora said she 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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