Monday, April 10, 2006

U.S immigration protests fill streets

Tens of thousands seek reforms

Thousands of people waving American flags poured into the streets nationwide on Monday demanding dignity and rights for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.
Shouts of "Si se puede!," Spanish for "Yes, we can!" echoed through the wave of protesters. They were stirred to action by legislation that would turn them into felons and fence off the U.S. border with Mexico.

Sweeping across the country from California to Maine, the protests, vigils and marches have snowballed into one of the biggest Hispanic movements since the 1960s when farm workers united under Cesar Chavez. Groups representing Asians, Africans and other ethnicities also filled the streets. The marches, coupled with scattered business boycotts designed to demonstrate immigrant economic power, blocked traffic for blocks in many cities.

Among businesses affected by the protests were a few Tyson Foods Inc. plants with absenteeism that was higher than normal as workers attended immigration rallies, company spokesman Gary Mickelson said in an interview. He said fewer than 10 of the Springdale, Arkansas-based company's 100 plants were closed, and added that conditions in the livestock and poultry markets also played a role.

Swift & Co., the third-largest U.S. beef and pork producer, closed a beef plant in Omaha, Nebraska, partly because of anticipated absences from the demonstrations, said spokesman Sean McHugh. He said the Greeley, Colorado-based company's production overall was not affected.

On Sunday, more than half a million people turned out for protests in Dallas, Miami and other cities in 10 states. Today's schedule of 136 rallies was ``the main event,'' said Avril Smith of the Service Employees International Union, one of several supporting the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice.

The debate on immigration has divided Republicans between lawmakers, including Colorado Republican Representative Tom Tancredo, head of the Immigration Reform Caucus, who want to focus on border security and enforcement, and those including President George W. Bush who back a new guest-worker program.

Last week, legislation permitting 325,000 guest workers a year and providing a way for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants to gain legal status stalled in the Senate as a compromise collapsed. After a failed test vote in the Senate last week, the bill's main backers, Arizona Republican John McCain and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy, vowed not to give up.

Congress went home last week for a two-week break gridlocked on a compromise plan to reform immigration law and give millions of illegal immigrants a shot at citizenship.

The immigration debate has been complicated by November's congressional elections in which Democrats are threatening to seize control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

(Compiled from the wire services)

Related: Rescuing a deal on illegal immigration, Voices on immigration reform, New American Opportunity Campaign

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