Hundreds of thousands marched the streets of downtown Los Angeles today in protest of the proposed immigration reform. MSNBC reports that LAPD “told NBC News that an estimated 500,000 protesters clogged the streets in front of Los Angeles city hall to protest a proposed law they see as punitive to undocumented workers.” There were no reported arrests or injuries. The WaPo and other sources at this time are reporting smaller crowds of up to 100,000.
Congress is considering bills that would make it a felony to be illegally in the United States, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border. The proposals have angered many Hispanics, a key voting bloc both parties are courting.
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stood on a wall outside of city hall to address the crowd during the pro-immigrant march. The protesters, marched with their families and many were wearing “white shirts symbolizing peace.” They came from all over Los Angeles County and as far away as Riverside County.
They thronged the steps of City Hall, perched in trees and sat atop bus kiosks, chanting “Mexico!” “U.S.A.!” and “Si se puede,” an old Mexican-American civil rights shout that means “Yes, we can.”
In his weekly radio address today, Bush said, “As we debate the immigration issue, we must remember there are hardworking individuals, doing jobs that Americans will not do, who are contributing to the economic vitality of our country.”
On Monday, Bush will attend a Naturalization Ceremony where, he said in his radio address he will, “discuss my vision for comprehensive immigration reform that will secure our borders, improve enforcement of our immigration laws, and uphold our values.”
The San Jose Mercury News offered a quick recap of the various proposals on immigration reform:
Illegal immigration is emerging as a top issue in the 2006 congressional election campaigns. Starting Monday, the U.S. Senate will take up an assortment of immigration-reform proposals.
— President Bush wants a reform package that includes increased border enforcement and a `guest worker’ program that allows undocumented immigrants to get work permits for up to six years.
— The U.S. House passed a bill last year that toughens enforcement, has no guest-worker provision, and criminalizes illegal immigrants and individuals or agencies who assist them.
— Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is trying to broker a compromise among his Senate colleagues that would include both tougher enforcement and a guest-worker provision.
— Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are sponsoring a bill that would allow guest workers to apply for permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
— Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the Senate majority leader, promises to introduce his own bill with harsher enforcement than Specter’s proposal, and no guest-worker plan.
Bush is rejecting the notion of an amnesty plan saying:
“I believe that granting amnesty would be unfair, because it would allow those who break the law to jump ahead of people who play by the rules and wait in the citizenship line.”
The issue promises to be a wedge issue for the Republican party, who seek to court the growing Latino vote.
UPDATE: The LA Times has coverage of the rally, estimated to be “one of the largest protest marches in Los Angeles history, surpassing Vietnam War demonstrations and the 70,000 who rallied downtown against Proposition 187, a 1994 state initiative that denied public benefits to undocumented migrants.” The LA Times has photos here.
UPDATE 2: Max Blumenthal says, “Sensenbrenner Awakens A Sleeping Giant.”
In passing HR 4437 and whatever draconian and utterly counter-productive bill emerges from the Senate, the congressional Republicans have become their party’s worst enemy.