Immigration rallies planned nationwide

LOS ANGELES – Hispanic and other civil rights groups wrapped up plans for immigration reform marches and rallies Tuesday in dozens of cities, but conceded a replay of last year’s huge turnout was unlikely.

Still, organizers said the demonstrations reflect a robust movement determined to win a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

“Just because the 12 million people who don’t have legal residency don’t attend a march doesn’t mean they don’t want it,” said Eduardo “Piolin” Sotelo, a popular Spanish-language disc jockey.

“I tell my listeners that no matter what they do, just don’t stop doing something,” he said.

Marches, meetings and voter registration drives were planned from Oregon to Florida.

In Miami, Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean planned to speak to immigrant groups. In Washington, D.C., about 400 members of Asian groups from across the country were set to lobby lawmakers.

Two large demonstrations were planned in Los Angeles County – home to an estimated 1 million illegal immigrants.

Last year’s May 1 boycott brought out more than a million protesters across the nation. But later rallies failed to produce large turnouts, as legislation stalled in Congress and bipartisan proposals for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship have become more conservative.

The developments have disheartened many would-be marchers, but organizers said the frustration with Congress also brought out new supporters.

“It used to be that Hispanic immigrants, those who came legally, were more conservative on the issue,” said Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American who heads the Democratic party’s Miami-Dade County chapter.

“But now it’s become so wrapped up with issues of racism and identity, even Puerto Ricans and Cubans care about immigration,” he said.

Yet stepped-up raids in recent months have left many immigrants afraid to speak out in public – a major change over rallies in 2006 when some illegal immigrants wore T-shirts saying “I’m illegal. So what?”

“The raids are intended to terrorize people and make President Bush look tough,” said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “But they are not a solution.”

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