There were protests Friday in a number of U.S. cities over bills before Congress that would strengthen enforcement of immigration laws. One of the largest demonstrations was in the western city of Phoenix, and smaller protests took place in Atlanta, Tucson, Kansas City and Los Angeles.
The protesters engaged in work stoppages and marches, and criticized a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would make it a felony to be an illegal immigrant in the United States.
The bill is not yet law and many Hispanics, union leaders and church officials have spoken against it. The legislation would impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Police say 20,000 people clogged the streets of downtown Phoenix. Several thousand students walked out of schools to rally in Los Angeles. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, but a fight broke out between black and Hispanic students at one Los Angeles high school.
One Hispanic student criticized a provision that says those who help illegal immigrants would commit a felony themselves.
"This country was based on immigration, and they're trying to keep us out," said the student. "If you walk with an immigrant, you're going to get arrested. What is that? That is not America."
The Senate, the other branch of the U.S. Congress, will take up the immigration issue next week. Analysts say some of the measures being considered by the Senate are less restrictive than those in the immigration bill passed by the House. One would create a guest worker program that could allow illegal immigrants to legalize their status. Once the Senate agrees on a bill, the House and Senate versions then go to a joint committee made up of members of each congressional branch. If the joint committee can reconcile the differences, the legislation then goes to the president for his approval.