HOMESTEAD, Fla.—Immigrants, both legal and illegal, and their allies gathered Monday for marches, prayers and demonstrations on a planned national day of economic protest, boycotting work, school and shopping to show their importance to the country.
Thousands of marchers gathered in cities across the nation -- including Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Colo., New York City, Atlanta, Dallas and many more -- for Un Dia Sin Immigrantes, or A Day Without Immigrants.
Others were working Monday but buying nothing as part of the economic boycott around the country. Some planned to attend protests during lunch breaks or after work. Church services, candlelight vigils and picnics also were planned.
Grassroots organizers are protesting stricter immigration laws that are being debated in Congress, and they hope Monday's events will raise awareness about immigrants' economic power.
In Carmel, Indiana, Jeff Salsbery said about 25 Hispanic workers skipped work at Monday at his landscaping company.
"I'm not very happy this morning," Salsbery said. "We're basically shut down in our busiest month of the year. It's going to cost me thousands of dollars today."
Some big businesses were shutting down operations: Eight of 14 Perdue Farms plants will close; Gallo Wines in Sonoma, Calif., gave its 150 employees the day off; Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat producer, shut five of its nine beef plants and four of six pork plants.
In Denver, El Centro Humanitario, a nonprofit set up to help day laborers, was closed Monday because its managers were helping organize a rally downtown expected to attract tens of thousands of people.
But there was little change at Labor Finders, a temporary office with several offices in the Denver area, spokesman Tim Kaffer said.
"The people who come in here really can't afford to take a day off," he said. "Their daily pay just takes care of their hotel and food."
In New Orleans, several thousand demonstrators attended a rally, carrying signs that read "Proud to rebuild" and "We come to work."
Derrick Trundle, 29, of Metairie, La., said he sends money to his mother in Honduras every month.
"We don't come here to do anything bad," Trundle said. "Just support our family because our country is so very poor."
In California, a spokesperson for Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said a boycott would "hurt everyone," while Democratic state senators passed a resolution supporting walkouts.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urged students to stay in school and advised protesters against waving flags of their native countries.
"You should wave the American flag," he said. "It's the flag of the country that we all are proud of and want to be a part of. Don't disrespect the traditions of this country."
Several thousand people marched in the rural city of Homestead, home to one Florida's largest Mexican immigrant populations and many major growers of fruits, vegetables and nursery plants.
Jose Cruz, 23, from El Salvador, said he took off the day from his construction job to attend the rally.
"If I lose my job, it's worth it," said Cruz, who has a temporary work permit that is granted to many Central Americans. "It's worth losing several jobs to get my papers."
Activists in Florida said many immigrants were concerned about recent federal raids, in which hundreds of immigrants with criminal backgrounds were rounded up in Florida and throughout the Midwest.
Opponents of illegal immigration spent the weekend building a fence to symbolize their support of a secure border. About 200 volunteers organized by the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of California worked on a 6-foot (2-meter) barbed-wire fence along a quarter-mile (half-kilometer) stretch of rugged terrain near the U.S.-Mexico border about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of San Diego.
In Pensacola, Fla., about a dozen anti-immigration protesters carried signs that read "Illegals Go Home" and "Enforce Immigration Laws."
Jim Moody said he does not support efforts to make illegal immigration a felony but is concerned about the drain on schools, hospitals and other resources that he believes illegal immigrants cause.
"We've forgotten what the word 'illegal' means," he said.
Roberto Aguilar, an Atlanta construction worker originally from Mexico City, says he was fired after he marched at a demonstration last month. The 25-year-old, though, felt it was important to return Monday.
"If we don't come out, they're going to paint us as criminals," Aguilar said. "We've only come here to earn money with the sweat of our brow."
-- The Associated Press and The Skanner Staff