LOS ANGELES, May 2 : Hundreds of thousands of mostly Hispanic immigrants walked off the job and rallied in cities across the United States on Monday, wielding their economic clout to demand rights for illegal immigrants.
Factories closed, day labor jobs went begging, children skipped school and cargo was left on docks yesterday in what the organizers called ''A Day without Immigrants.'' The largely Latino crowds chanted ''Si, se puede!'' or ''Yes, we can!'' and banged drums while waving mostly American flags.
Rallies stretched from the lettuce fields of central California to the streets of Los Angeles and Chicago.
The demonstrations were aimed at pressuring the US Congress into granting rights for up to 12 million illegal immigrants and scuttle a proposal that would criminalize them and anyone who tries to help them.
''What the marches have done is give a human face to the immigration issue in the United States today. And up to now it's been peaceful,'' said Harry Pachon, professor of public policy at the University of Southern California.
''The volume of the demonstrations, the number of people who have turned out in different US cities, it's a national issue.'' BACKLASH? The economic impact of the boycott was unclear and some lawmakers and conservative groups predicted a backlash.
Republican legislators in Arizona -- the state that is the biggest US entry point for illegal immigrants -- called for a 100 million dollars crackdown, including deploying National Guard troops to the border with Mexico.
Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado predicted a negative reaction from Americans and conservative lawmakers in the wake of the walkout.
Recent polls show only 30 per cent Americans advocate tougher laws for illegals, while the majority, like President George W.
Bush, wants a guest worker program combined with better enforcement.
The biggest rallies were in Los Angeles where a crowd estimated by local media at 500,000 filled nine city blocks leading to City Hall.