Thousands mark rally anniversary
Crowds in L.A. seek immigration reform
BY SUSAN ABRAM, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 03/25/2007 09:49:41 PM PDT

Thousands of immigrants and their supporters gathered at rallies and forums throughout Los Angeles Sunday to mark the anniversary of massive demonstrations that virtually shut down the city and spotlighted the need for national immigration reform.

Hoping their voices would reach lawmakers in Washington, D.C., thousands of people met inside the Los Angeles Sports Arena to hear speeches and music and join a massive letter-writing campaign.

Admission to “Justice For Our Families” was free for participants who brought their own 39-cent stamp and signed pre-written letters asking lawmakers to consider passing a fair immigration-reform package. The letters also asked lawmakers to drop a fee increase for citizen applications.

Organizers and participants, including groups representing day laborers and members of the Asian and African-American communities, aimed to collect more than 5,000 letters.

“Some may have been losing hope from last year, but there is still hope,” said Maria Rodriguez, youth organizer for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or CHIRLA, one of the organizers. “This event is saying we are continuing the fight, that there is hope there will be a bill that everyone

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa charged up the Americanflag-waving crowd, saying his proudest day as mayor was when a historic half-million people marched through L.A. last year.

“They marched peacefully to say: We work here, our children go to school, and we want to be part of the American dream,” Villaraigosa said in English and in Spanish. “They marched to say: This is a great and generous America. … There should be a legal pathway to citizenship.”

State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu ez urged the crowd to support the United States by waving the American flag. Some last year had criticized march participants for holding up flags of their homelands.

“We need to raise the American flag because this is our country,” Nu ez said as the crowd chanted: “U.S.A! U.S.A.!” then “S se puede!” or “Yes, it can be done!”

“We are asking this most democratic of all countries to give us dignity … to continue to defend the American dream,” Nu ez said.

Many in the crowd said they were moved that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter in support of a bill introduced last week that would give millions of illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens, with a visa that would let them work and live in the country while they seek permanent status and eventual citizenship. Immigrants would be told to learn English and pay fines for staying illegally.

“I think that’s fair,” said 40-year-old Los Angeles resident Reina De Centeno. “It’s what I had to do when I became a citizen here.”

Elsewhere, pro- and anti-immigration groups rallied at the downtown L.A. Federal Building, where about 500 people called for immigration reform while a smaller group demanded stiffer enforcement of U.S. borders.

Despite the lower-than-anticipated turnout for the pro-immigration rally, organizer Marta Rojas said last year’s event launched an important movement. “The government is starting to listen,” she said. “They are starting to see the strength of the immigrants.”

Valley residents were also expected to hold a “March for Justice” at Brand Park in Mission Hills to coincide with events commemorating the life of the late labor leader Cesar Chavez, who would have been 80 on Saturday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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