Thousands march in LA to protest immigration plan
LOS ANGELES -- Thousands of people marched through downtown yesterday, demanding a way for the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to become citizens and condemning President Bush's latest proposal.
Carrying signs saying "Amnesty Now," about 15,000 people danced to Mexican ranchera music and passed large American flags over their heads.
Organizers said many illegal immigrants were angry about a White House plan that would grant them work visas but require them to return home and pay thousands of dollars to become legal US residents.
"Charging that much, Bush is going to be even more expensive than the coyotes," said protester Armando Garcia, 50, referring to smugglers who transport people across the Mexican border.
Alfredo Gonzalez, 33, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, marched with his wife and daughters, 6 and 8 years old. He said he fears the immigration raids occurring across the country.
"If they kick me out, who is going to take care of my daughters? The government? I don't think so," he said. "We need full legalization and need it now."
Immigrant rights advocates say many of California's illegal immigrants feel betrayed by President Bush, who they had long considered an ally.
"People are really upset," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, president of Los Angeles-based Latino Movement USA, one of several organizers of the rally. "For years, the president spoke in no uncertain terms about supporting immigration reform. . . . Then this kind of plan comes out and people are so frustrated."
The White House's draft plan, which was recently leaked, calls for a new "Z" visa that would allow illegal immigrant workers to apply for three-year work permits. They would be renewable indefinitely, but would cost $3,500 each time.
To get a permit and become legal permanent residents, illegal immigrants would have to return to their home country, apply at a US embassy or consulate to reenter legally, and pay a $10,000 fine.
The proposal has been sharply criticized by Hispanic advocacy groups, Democrats, the Roman Catholic Church, and unions that have many immigrants in their ranks. They argue the cost of work permits and the green card application -- which could total more than $20,000 -- are prohibitive for low-wage earners.
The plan is far more conservative than the one passed by the Senate last year with bipartisan backing and support from President Bush.
That plan would have allowed many of the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to stay in the United States, work, and apply to become legal residents after learning English, pay small fines and back taxes, and clear a background check.
Many conservatives in the Senate opposed that plan, and it failed to gain traction in the then Republican-controlled House, which at the end of 2005 passed the punitive immigration bill that angered immigrant communities and led to massive protests.
In Arizona last week, authorities found at least 80 suspected illegal immigrants in a house west of Phoenix and arrested two suspected smugglers, a police official said.
Authorities shot tear gas into the house Friday, forcing one of the suspected smugglers out. They found the other suspect hiding in the attic, Peoria police spokesman Mike Tellef said.
He said authorities became aware of the drop house after a Michigan resident called US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying one of their relatives had called because the smugglers were demanding more money.
The immigrants were in the custody of ICE. Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the agency, did not confirm how ICE became aware of the drop house and declined to release further information.