CHICAGO, May 1 (Reuters) From the streets of New York to the lettuce fields of California, hundreds of thousands of immigrants left their jobs, shunned business as usual and marched in a powerful bid to legitimize millions of workers now in the United States illegally.
In what may have been the largest outpouring the land has seen on the divisive issue, hundreds of restaurants, factories and other shops closed, construction projects were disrupted, day labor jobs went begging, children stayed home from school and massive waves of humanity poured through city streets.
''If these people are good enough to pay taxes, they're good enough to be citizens,'' said Chris Delgado, a tax preparer from Skokie, Illinois, who came to a Chicago rally.
Los Angeles prepared for two rallies where more than a million were expected. In Chicago, more than 300,000 marched for miles, waving flags and pushing baby strollers. Major demonstrations unfolded in Denver, Houston, San Francisco and many other cities.
The common bond was a bid to win from the US Congress rights for an estimated 11.5 million to 12 million illegal immigrants, and to scuttle a proposal that would criminalize them and anyone who tries to help them. Thousands also marched in Mexico in solidarity with their compatriots who make up the bulk of the undocumented immigrants.
It was not clear what the economic impact of the boycott work day would be. Some fast food operators had expressed concern since they rely heavily on immigrant labor.
Illegal immigrants, who flood across the Mexican border at a rate of half a million a year, work mostly at low-paid jobs in agriculture, construction, restaurants, as janitors, meat packers, maids and gardeners and many other occupations.
At the headquarters of American Apparel in Los Angeles, sewing machines at the largest garment factory in the United States fell silent when managers shut down to allow all 3,000 workers a chance to join the protests.
''The government has to realize how important Latinos are to this economy and give us full rights,'' said American Apparel customer service representative Ruben Eustaquio.
In Florida, about of half of farm workers stayed away from the fields, according to the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, and up to 75 percent of workers abandoned some construction sites in south Florida, according the contracting officials there.
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