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Immigrants rally for rights in U S marches

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Apr 2 (Reuters) Thousands of immigrants and their supporters chanted, blew whistles and waved flags from dozens of Latin American countries as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in support of immigrant rights.

A festive crowd of more than 10,000 people shouted ''We are all Americans,'' and carried banners in Spanish and English saying ''We are not criminals'' and ''Immigrant rights are human rights'' in their trek from Brooklyn across the East River to Manhattan.

''We are workers not terrorists,'' said Augustin Rangel, 40, who came from Mexico four years ago and has two jobs as a painter and bar worker. ''We work hard for this country and for our families. We want the same rights as everyone else.'' The New York protest was the largest of several held across the country in the Los Angeles area and other cities.

The rally point in New York was the square outside the Federal Plaza building in Manhattan where immigrants line up on weekdays to have federal officials process their visas. On Saturday, it was a colorful sea of flags and resembled a street festival with children, parents, and senior citizens.

Camella Pinkney-Price of the Hispanic Evangelical Churches said the march was held to protest an immigration bill that would criminalize anyone who helped any of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented workers.

''We want to say that we deserve to be legal,'' she said. ''Why are people called illegal immigrants when they have shed blood, sweat and tears to work in this country?'' CONGRESSIONAL BILL TARGETED The flashpoint for protests in the past several weeks has been debate in Congress on an overhaul of immigration laws that could toughen enforcement and tighten border security.

The House of Representatives passed a bill last December that defines illegal aliens as felons and calling for the construction of a 700-mile (1,120-km) fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Senate is debating an alternative that provides a way for temporary workers as well as illegal immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens, as well as toughen workplace enforcement of immigration rules. It also creates a new guest worker program pushed by President George W. Bush.

Jose Richards, who came to the United States in the 1960s and remains here legally, carried a Jamaican flag as a banner that said ''Leave no immigrant behind.'' ''I do not support the part of the bill that makes undocumented immigrants felons,'' he said. ''We are not criminals.'' Julio Diaz, 30, an illegal immigrant cafeteria worker who came to the United States at age 17 from Veracruz, Mexico, marched with his wife and two children, ages 7 and 8, who carried American flags.

''We came today to support legalizing immigrants like me,'' he said. ''We don't need amnesty but we would like temporary visas so we don't risk our lives crossing the border to visit our families.

''I pay taxes and I work hard.'' In Costa Mesa, California, about 40 miles (64 km) south of Los Angeles, an estimated 1,500 people turned out amid wind and rain to protest the bill and praise the contributions of immigrants.

Javier Bonales, an official with the local arm of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a powerful union of transportation and freight workers, pushed for a boycott.

''On May 1 we are planning a great American boycott, he said.

''For one day, we will just not go to work and not buy anything. We will stay home and we will show our support for all these workers.'' The mostly young and Latino crowd marched around city hall, waving U.S. and Mexican flags. School buses dropped off loads of demonstrators while a heavy police presence kept an eye on the boisterous, but peaceful, event.

Among the more provocative signs carried by the demonstrators was one that said ''This is our continent, you stupid Americans.'' REUTERS SK RN0434

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