Thousands of people across the country protested today to demand a path to citizenship for approximately 12 million illegal immigrants.
Organizers say that immigrants "feel a sense of urgency to keep immigration reform from getting pushed to the back burner by the 2008 presidential elections."
Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said: "If we don't act, then both the Democratic and Republican parties can go back to their comfort zones and do nothing. They won't have the courage to resolve a major situation for millions of people."
Mayela Ruiz, an illegal immigrant, stated: "We want just reform. I've been here 15 years. I've worked hard, paid my taxes. I've had no problems with the law and I'm afraid to leave my house. I want a law that would allow me to work and live in freedom but not like a slave."
No rallies were planned in Atlanta, even though last year 50,000 people marched; here, immigrants are afraid of raids and of a new state law that will take effect in July. Among other things, it requires police to check the immigration status of people they arrest.
In New York, people planned an "American Family Tree" rally to symbolize the separation of families because of unfair immigration laws. The event is a response to a White House immigration reform proposal made in March that Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean called "insane." It would grant illegal immigrants 3-year work visas for $3,500 but would require them to return to their own countries to apply for U.S. residency and pay a $10,000 fine.
About 400 people gathered in downtown Los Angeles before the march there; L.A. County has about one million illegal immigrants, the largest group in America.
Since last year, reform legislation has stalled in Congress and bipartisan proposals for granting illegal immigrants citizenship have grown more conservative.
In LA, marches included demands for a legalization program and a stop to raids on illegal immigrants; they also included an anti-Iraq war protest.