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Demonstrators Call for Immigration Rights as Senate Considers Reform


Thousands of protesters across the country demonstrated Monday, calling for immigration rights as a Senate committee considers a bill that would strengthen enforcement of national immigration laws.

Monday marked the fourth day of protests over the immigration bill, as demonstrators massed in Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit and Washington.

In Washington, Latin voices mixed with Asian music near the U.S. Capitol Building as demonstrators held a prayer service, calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject a bill the House of Representatives passed in December.

The measure would impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and erect fences along one-third of the U.S. border with Mexico.

Another part of the House bill would make it a crime to give aid of any kind to illegal immigrants. That's one part of the measure some religious leaders, including Archdeacon Michael Kendall of the Episcopal Church in New York, say they plan to disobey, even if it becomes law.

"We pledge ourselves to oppose and resist this legislation in the halls of government, in the courts, and, if necessary, we will go to jail," said Michael Kendall.

Standing near the U.S. Capitol Building, the crowd roared its approval when it was announced that the Senate committee had amended its version of the law to protect church and charitable groups providing food and shelter to illegal immigrants.

The Washington crowd included demonstrators from throughout Latin America and Asia. Former U.S. soldier Manrique Pena came to the United States in 1986 from El Salvador, where he and his family faced death threats for demanding democracy. He said immigrants deserve better treatment in the United States.

"We come here to this country, looking for democracy, and we get shunned," said Manrique Pena. "But we're worthy of dying, and we're worthy of doing low-level things for this country. We help keep it running. We are amongst the society here."

The full Senate is scheduled to discuss the immigration issue this week. Once the Senate agrees on a bill, the House and Senate versions go to a joint congressional committee to reconcile differences. If the sides can agree on changes, the bill goes to President Bush for his approval.