Hundreds of thousands of immigrants and supporters of immigrant rights held rallies around the United States Monday in what organizers call a campaign for immigrant dignity. The protests come as efforts to overhaul U.S. immigration law have stalled in Congress.
A large rally in Washington to mark what organizers are calling the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice drew tens of thousands of people, many waving American flags.
Jose, an immigrant from Guatemala, said he passed out "thousands and thousands" of American flags.
"Everybody is American, everybody," said Jose. "Even if they are from other countries, everybody is American."
Martha, who is from Mexico, says she has a legal permit to work in the United States. But she says she came to show her support for immigrants who do not.
"We want to be here [to live a] better life, and to have documents and be legal here," said Martha.
A man named Choung, from the Korean-American Senior Citizens Association, also came to show his solidarity with other immigrants.
"We need more and more immigrants coming in - immigrants coming into the [United] States," said Choung. "I think it helps in building America, I guess."
During a talk with students at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, President Bush said the immigration issue has galvanized Americans.
"We're fixing to have a huge immigration march today," he said. "It's a sign that this is an important issue, that people feel strongly about it."
President Bush has been pushing Congress to pass a temporary worker program that would allow illegal immigrants to have some legal status. He said there should be a way to formally document the estimated 11 million people who are already in the United States illegally.
Critics like Susan Wysoki of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, say any so-called guest worker program is fundamentally unfair, to American citizens and those who are trying to immigrate legally.
"Our position on that is that these are people who are demanding rights that they don't have any right to demand," said Susan Wysoki. "We have immigrants here illegally, who are demanding that they be given rights that U.S. citizens have, when their first act in coming into this country was to break the law by coming in illegally. So, that's something that most Americans are angry about."
When asked if he believed it would be unfair to offer illegal immigrants the chance to become legal, demonstrator Alejandro said no. The Mexican-American pastor came to Washington from the southern U.S. state of Arkansas.
"I don't really think they'll be jumping the line," said Alejandro. "It's basically giving them the opportunity to get in line. Right now, nobody has the opportunity. If you're illegal, if you're an immigrant, you're pretty much stuck there. And all we're asking for is people [to] have the opportunity to get back in line and in the future be able to meet all the requirements to become a U.S. citizen."
There were large demonstrations Monday across the United States, from New York to Los Angeles. There were a few Mexican flags at a rally in Houston, Texas, although most people waved U.S. flags.
Congress went on a two-week break Friday, without resolving the issue. The House passed a version of the immigration reform bill that calls for tough border security measures and considers illegal immigrants felons. The Senate failed to pass legislation before the recess, but the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, says senators will take up the issue again when they return.
In the meantime, immigrants and their supporters say they hope large-scale demonstrations will help ensure the issue is not ignored.