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Rallies Demand Residency Rights for Illegal Immigrants in US

Demonstrators held marches and rallies from New York to California Tuesday, demanding a path to citizenship for the millions of people who are in the United States illegally. Mike O'Sullivan has more from Los Angeles, where thousands of protesters marched through the city.

They gathered in Detroit, Houston, Denver, Phoenix, and other cities. The biggest crowds were in Los Angeles.

Some waved U.S. flags as they urged Congress to normalize the status of an estimated one million people who live in Los Angeles County illegally. As many as 12 million illegal residents are thought to live around the county.

One protester says immigrants like her want to be legal residents. "Please give me the legalization. Please," she said.

The protests were smaller than those one year ago, when more than one million people marched through U.S. cities in a nationwide boycott billed as "A Day Without Immigrants."

In Miami Tuesday, hundreds waved American flags and the flags of many Central American nations. Organizers asked people to celebrate the millions of immigrants who have come to the United States to contribute to its economy and culture, and to those who are serving in its armed forces.

Nicaraguan immigrant Omar Balmaceda said he came to the rally in downtown Miami to show support for others from Central America and to defend the rights of immigrants across the country.

He says Hispanic laborers are crucial to all construction projects in the area, and that the United States would not exist without the contribution of Hispanic workers.

Leaders of the area's many immigrant communities and civic groups urged new citizens to register to vote and to press government officials on proposed immigration reforms.

President Bush has called for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to legal residence and possible citizenship for some who entered the country illegally. However, many critics in the president's own Republican party say the plan is unfair to legal immigrants, who obeyed the rules when entering the country. The critics say the focus of reform should be on securing the nation's borders.

Some immigrant organizations support the President's approach. But many oppose an administration proposal that illegal immigrants return to their home country, pay a $10,000 fine, and pay another $3,500 for a three-year U.S. work permit.

In Miami, Roman Catholic Bishop Felipe Estevez said the church supports plans that would give immigrants a path to citizenship, in part to reunite families divided because of immigration. He also challenged President Bush's latest proposals, saying more needs to be done to prevent the creation of a permanent under-class, made up of immigrant families. "The question of immigration reform is not only a political issue, it is a moral responsibility to protect the dignity, the God-given dignity of all human beings," he said.

Bishop Estevez said the church supports one bill in the House of Representatives, called the Strive Act, which was introduced in March by Democrat Luis Gutierrez and Republican Jeff Flake. Some immigration advocates have expressed concerns about the bill, but others are backing it, because it may help resolve the ongoing debate.

Rosa Kasse, executive director of the civic group Hispanic Coalition, says a solution is needed because immigration concerns have created an intellectual and emotional crisis for the nation.

She says the United States needs to find harmony and re-establish unity, because she says the immigration debate has divided the country. Kasse says she and other community leaders plan to travel to Washington on Wednesday to press lawmakers over proposed reforms.

Demonstrators in Tuesday's rallies criticized recent immigration raids and deportations, and say they hope to press the immigration issue in the debate leading up to next year's presidential election.