Tens of thousands of marchers took to the streets of downtown Portland Monday to protest a proposed federal law that would make it a felony to be in the United States illegally. The march, which was accompanied by similar demonstrations in more than 100 cities all over the country, is part of a growing movement that is sweeping the nation.
On Sunday, more than 10,000 people demonstrated against the law on the steps of the state Capitol in Salem, while an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 took to the streets of Dallas, Texas. Nearly 50,000 more marched in San Diego, Calif., the largest city on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In Los Angeles the previous weekend, more than 500,000 people walked downtown streets.
In Portland on Monday, marchers waved Mexican and American flags and wore white T-shirts to indicate their solidarity. Many carried signs bearing the images of Cesar Chavez, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Among their ranks were large numbers of high school students who skipped class to participate in the protest.
"It's beautiful," said Ramon Ramirez, president of Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, a labor union that helped to organize the demonstration. "We didn't expect this many people."
In San Diego on Sunday, almost 50,000 demanded Congress abandon an effort to crack down on an estimated 11 million people living in the United States illegally.
Many of the demonstrators wore white and carried signs that read "We are Americans!" and "We march today, we vote tomorrow." A large number of Mexican and American flags were part of the protest, which followed two weeks of careful planning that included an effort to encourage participants to wave American flags.
"The more American flags, the better this is going to be," said Ben Monterroso, an organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 1877.
Migrant advocates have expressed concerns that throngs of people waving Mexican flags might spark a backlash.
Organizers of Sunday's event scrambled to find as many American flags as they could to distribute to marchers.
Samuel Barriga, 50, of San Marcos, was given an American flag and a sign that read "Immigrant values are family values." Barriga said he was participating in the demonstration because he feared his cousins, friends and neighbors could be deported if efforts to crack down on illegal immigration succeed.
"They want to treat us like criminals," Barriga said. "We're not criminals. We're hard workers."
Oscar Cruz, 23, a construction worker, said he came illegally to the United States in 2003. He said he had feared a crackdown on illegal immigration but felt emboldened by the large marches across the country in recent weeks.
"If we don't protest they'll never hear us," he said.
Police chief William Lansdowne estimated the crowd at nearly 50,000 late Sunday afternoon.
Police removed two counter-demonstrators from the protest area, including one man who was shouting "No amnesty!" into a bullhorn while standing in a crowd of pro-immigration demonstrators. The officers dragged the man to a parking garage because he resisted their efforts to move him.
San Diego, which borders Tijuana, Mexico, witnessed a spate of student walkouts in late March, a protest against legislation approved by the House in December that would make felons of illegal immigrants and erect about 700 miles of border fencing.
The Mexican consul in San Diego, Luis Cabrera, appeared on Spanish-language television at the time to discourage students from waving Mexican flags.
In Dallas, protesters banged drums, waved U.S. flags and marched shouting "Si, Se Puede!" — Spanish for "Yes, we can!"
Many of those who crammed into the streets of downtown Dallas wore white clothing to symbolize peace. Marchers included families pushing strollers with their children and ice cream vendors who placed American flags on their carts.
Labor groups and religious organizations also supported the rally.
Police estimated the crowd at between 350,000 and 500,000. Hundreds of police were on hand but there were no reports of violence.
Among the marchers was Marina Resendiz, a 25-year-old premed student at the University of Texas at Arlington who illegally came to Dallas from Mexico with her family as a teenager and went on to attend public schools in Dallas. She and her friends carried a sign that read "We love the USA, we work, we study, we contribute to the economy of the nation."
"It's hard to study if you don't have a green card. I graduated third in my class but I couldn't get any scholarships," she said as bells from the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe tolled in the background.
Protesters also asked for immigration reform that won't split up families made up by parents living illegally in the country and their U.S.-born children.
"We don't want to be separated from our families," Resendiz said.
Some protesters wore shirts that said "No HR 4437," referring to the House bill passed in December that would build more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border, make criminals of people who helped undocumented immigrants and make it a felony, rather than a civil infraction, to be in the country illegally.
Opponents of the House legislation included business owner Michael Longcrier, who carried a sign that read "We work because of hard working immigrants."
"I have friends in this march. I have friends that make my business work," said Longcrier, who said he employs at least one illegal immigrant at his used clothing business.
The protest was held even though sweeping reform legislation that would have given many illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship stalled on Capitol Hill last week.
"This is a force, an energy here," Amir Krummell, a U.S. citizen born in Panama, said about the multitude of marchers. "There has to be a deal ... there has to be a happy medium."
Demonstrators walked in a procession that snaked more than four blocks to Dallas City Hall. There, Hispanic leaders urge them to remain involved, vote and tell their lawmakers to work on legislation to legalize millions of undocumented workers.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas was among lawmakers who expressed frustration that they were unable to gain votes for proposals to toughen enforcement or to leave immigration policy unchanged until the border had been made secure.
"The people are watching and they'd better get our message or we're going to kick them out," said Dallas attorney Domingo Garcia, one of the march's organizers.
Organizers also asked demonstrators to show the spending power immigrants have in the economy by not spending money on Monday and closing their businesses or not working if they could afford it. However, they told students to not skip classes and continue getting an education.
Volunteers were scattered throughout the march signing up people who were not registered to vote.
A handful of counterprotesters showed up before the march started, carrying signs that read "Secure our Borders."
Organizers of the march later acknowledged them by saying they should talk.
Dallas has a large Mexican population but is also home to immigrants from Kosovo, Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq, El Salvador, Colombia, Korea, Vietnam and other countries.
Immigrants and their children, U.S. and foreign born, account for 40 percent of North Texas residents. And about half of the region's foreign born residents are undocumented, according to a study byDFWInternational Community Alliance.
A similar march was held Sunday in nearby Fort Worth.
— The Associated Press and The Skanner staff