Protesters across the West call for immigration overhaul |

Protesters across the West call for immigration overhaul

PHOENIX ” Immigrant rights supporters flexed their muscles across the West, turning out in the thousands to call for a pathway for illegal workers to seek U.S. citizenship and a chance to reunite immigrant families separated by borders.

An estimated 100,000 people marched Monday to the Arizona Capitol, easily the largest of a series of marches across the West. Other demonstrations took place in California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and even Alaska.

The protests, among others across the country, were the culmination of more than two weeks of mounting pressure from immigrant rights supporters for federal lawmakers to overhaul America’s broken immigration policies.

Demonstrators waved American flags, denounced a proposal in the U.S. House to criminalize the presence of illegal immigrants in the country, and chanted “Si Se Puede,” which means “It Can Be Done.”

Miguel Penate, a 25-year-old fast-food restaurant manager in Phoenix who came illegally from El Salvador illegally six years ago, said U.S. immigration laws are so strict it is nearly impossible to come legally.

“There is no way to come legally over here,” he said. “If there was, do you think people would like to be in the desert risking their lives?”

Outside the Arizona Capitol, a mariachi band played on a stage near the state House building as thousands of marchers streamed in, carrying United Farm Workers flags, banners with the likeness of farm-labor organizer Cesar Chavez and signs that read “Chicano Power” and “Brown Power.”

Arizona, the busiest illegal entry point along the nation’s porous southern border, is home to an estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants out of the state’s population of about 6 million.

About 10,000 participated in a march in Tucson and were joined by another 2,000 for a rally.

Bob Rodriguez, a demonstrator in Tucson, said rallies across the country will have a persuasive impact on Congress. “We don’t need a caste system here… It’s not right,” he said.

A small group of counter-protesters in Tucson burned two Mexican flags. Police said six people _ including three teenagers _ were taken into custody.

In Phoenix, demonstrator argued with a state lawmaker who has advocated tighter borders.

“Let’s see you mow the lawn. Let’s see you do the dishes,” said the demonstrator, who declined to provide his name.

“I did the lawn,” said Republican Rep. John Allen of Scottsdale, who has advocated sending National Guard troops to the state’s porous border.

Mexican flags were discouraged over concerns they were a divisive symbol, and only a handful were on display.

When a family arrived with a little girl waving a Mexican flag, an organizer spoke in Spanish to the father, who rolled up the Mexican flag and walked away.

Juan Aguirre, a 29-year-old restaurant owner in Phoenix who was brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents when he was 4 years old, said he fears the changes considered by Congress could led to the revocation of his permanent resident legal status.

“They can still take my papers,” said Aguirre, whose three children are American citizens. “They just want a little dirt on me, throw me back to Mexico and take away the permit I received.”

Not everyone was supportive.

Richard Lee Roberts of Phoenix held a sign that read “Go Back to Mexico.”

“Nobody else has the courage to come out here and do what I’m doing,” Roberts said. “This is ridiculous. If you weren’t born here, head back south.”

Marchers chanted and waved U.S. and Mexican flags in Sacramento, where organizers estimated the crowd at 5,000 but the California Highway Patrol unit in charge of Capitol protection would not provide an official estimate.

“Our roots are Mexican and we don’t want to lose that, but at the same time I feel more American,” said Fausto Cervantes, who said he found work picking crops after coming to the U.S. illegally.

Thousands of people, some carrying signs saying “We are not criminals,” marched in Seattle. Others waved signs that read, “We love America and we work very hard.” The Seattle participants included marchers from Mexico, Argentina and the Ivory Coast.

In Albuquerque, N.M., 200 to 300 students carried large U.S. and Mexican flags at a noontime rally. Seventh-grader Daisy Jurado, who has lived all but one of her 13 years in the United States, said she participated because “I want to stand up for my country.

“People are being racist to Mexicans,” she said. “We should all have the same rights.”

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