Angered by a controversial Arizona immigration law, hundreds of thousands of protesters - including 50,000 alone in Los Angeles - rallied in cities nationwide demanding President Barack Obama tackle immigration reform immediately.
Police said 50,000 rallied in Los Angeles where singer Gloria Estefan kicked off a massive downtown march. Estefan spoke in Spanish and English, proclaiming the United States is a nation of immigrants. "We're good people," the Cuban-born singer said atop a flatbed truck. "We've given a lot to this country. This country has given a lot to us."
Public outcry, particularly among immigrant rights activists, has been building since last week when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed controversial legislation known as SB 1070. The law requires local and state law enforcement to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally. Critics say that the law institutionalizes racism and will result in "legalized" racial profiling.
"I want to thank the governor of Arizona because she's awakened a sleeping giant," said labor organizer John Delgado, who attended a rally in New York where authorities estimated 6,500 gathered.
From Los Angeles to Washington D.C., activists, families, students and even politicians marched, practiced civil disobedience and "came out" about their citizenship status in the name of rights for immigrants, including the estimated 12 million living illegally in the U.S.
Several thousand attended the Washington, DC rally in Lafayette Park just one block north of the White House. Many carried signs saying "We are All Arizona", "Shame on Arizona-Boycott Racism" and "Immigrant Rights Are Civil Rights". Protesters saved plenty of anger for politicians as well - President Barack Obama in particular. Pedro Sanchez, a 37-year-old who is not in the country legally, carried a sign that mentioned Obama's children by name: "Malia, Sasha, what would you feel if someone separated you from your parents?" Sanchez, a Maryland resident who entered the U.S. on a now-expired visa from Mexico, said he's the only one in his family who is here illegally and he worries that without action from the president, many states will follow Arizona's lead. "I worry this will be a domino effect," Sanchez said. "You know, once one falls, the others start falling behind it."
Kim Propeack of the immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland said organizers had distributed 1,000 metro cards to people attending the rally and sent 40 chartered buses from Maryland carrying about 1,800 people. Another nine buses came in from Virginia and others came to Washington on their own.
At the end of the DC event, about 35 immigrant advocates, including a nun and a U.S. congressman, were arrested in front of the White House fence after sitting down and defying orders from police to move. U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois was among those taken away with his hands tied behind his back in plastic restraints.
Elsewhere, an estimated 20,000 attended a rally in Dallas and 20,000 in Chicago. 8,000 demonstrators were reported at the Denver event, and 7,000 protesters at one in Houston. About 5,000 gathered at the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta and at least 5,000 marched in Milwaukee. About 3,000 attended a Boston-area march.
Obama once promised to tackle immigration reform in his first 100 days, but has pushed back that timetable several times. He said this week that Congress may lack the "appetite" to take on immigration after going through a tough legislative year. Despite that, Obama and Congress continue to address other immigration related issues-- such as boosting personnel and resources for border security-- by adding funding for those efforts to spending bills this year. In addition, Obama administration officials continue to split up families here in the U.S. by deporting immigrants on minor crimes and other technicalities-- despite calls to stop the inhumane practice and having the executive authority to stop such deportations pending immigration reform.