A day after 500,000 people flooded the streets of Dallas to march in support of immigrants' rights, similar protests took place in more than 70 U.S. cities on Monday (April 10), many of them marked by a sea of marchers wearing white T-shirts to symbolize peace.
The gatherings were part of what organizers called a "national day of action for immigration justice," coming just days after the Senate broke for a two-week recess without agreeing on a controversial immigration reform act. The protesters, many waving American flags, took to the streets in cities across the South, as well as in New York, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Some in Congress have called for legislation that will make it a felony for the estimated 11-12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country to remain here. In Dallas, The Associated Press reported that immigrant groups called for a boycott to demonstrate the financial impact such criminalization would have on the national economy.
The massive march in Atlanta — which reportedly stretched more than two miles — was in support of national immigrants' rights as well as in protest of state legislation awaiting Georgia governor Sonny Perdue's signature. The bill, if signed, would require that adults seeking many state-administered benefits prove they are in the country legally, according to the AP.
A compromise in the Senate on immigration reform fell apart at the 11th hour on Thursday; it would have presented a less harsh alternative to a competing House bill that passed in December (see "Immigration Compromise Falls Apart In Senate").
Even organizers have been surprised at the large number of immigrants participating in the rallies over the past few weeks, according to The New York Times. While formerly inclined to stay in the shadows to avoid detection and possible deportation, many illegal immigrants have become vocal recently about the proposed immigration bills in Congress, which they say are unfair (see "The Immigration Debate: Behind The Protests").
"I think that the incredible turnout in places like Dallas is just reflective of the deeply felt sense in this country that we have a broken immigration system that desperately needs to be fixed," said Eliza Leighton of Casa of Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group that helped organize the rally in Washington, according to the Times.
"It needs to be fixed in such a way that the millions of immigrants who are in this country now, and are strong contributing members of our society and our economy, have a clear path toward citizenship and one that unites families and keeps our country strong," she said.
Sunday's rallies also drew thousands in San Diego; Miami; Birmingham, Alabama; and Boise, Idaho. In Dallas, marchers heard "God Bless America" and "This Land Is Your Land" in addition to Mexican songs as they chanted slogans such as "Si, se puede" ("Yes, we can") and "U.S.A., all the way."
The demonstrations have been peaceful so far, with organizers stressing protest, not conflict. But in Tucson, Arizona, on Sunday, dozens of protesters and counter-protesters gathered in front of the city's Mexican consulate as a Mexican flag was burned in a tense showdown between opposing forces. According to NBC affiliate KVOA-TV, the protest was led by the Border Guardians, a group of vigilantes that has formed along the Arizona border and that speaks out against the thousands of immigrants that enter the U.S. illegally every day through the area.
Also causing controversy is a decision by some Washington, D.C.-area schools to offer students community service credit for attending Monday's protest. The Washington Post reported that some parents and activists have said the Montgomery County school system should be focusing on education, not political advocacy. Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said the offer of credit is in keeping with how the system has operated in the past.
But given the highly charged debate over immigration, the move drew a flood of angry phone calls on Sunday as conservative radio hosts blasted the decision.
The Post reported that in a memo sent to board of education members, Weast said that "callers were abusive to school system staff, using derogatory ethnic comments in expressing their views." Schools spokesman Brian K. Edwards said students will receive service-learning hours for participating in the rally as long as they do so under the supervision of a community group that has been approved by the school system.
Maryland students are required to put in 60 hours of community service to graduate from high school, and Edwards said students participating in the rallies — which are taking place during their spring break — will have to have a note verifying their attendance. Community service hours can be logged with any secular, nonprofit community organization that is tax-exempt and that school officials have approved.