PHOENIX - Dozens of high school students and other immigrants' rights supporters pulled weeds, picked up trash and painted over graffiti near the Arizona Capitol on Monday in honor of labor rights activist Cesar Chavez.
The activists said they wanted to show critics that immigrants were a part of the community regardless of their legal status. Armed with gardening tools, trash bags and cans of paint, they spread out across the low-income neighborhoods along the Capitol and cleaned up alleyways awash in trash and graffiti.
"You guys are continuing my grandfather's work today," Alejandro Chavez, grandson of the deceased civil rights leader, told the youth.
Cesar Chavez Day was Sunday, honoring the birthday of the Arizona-born activist.
Jessica Garcia, 20, was born in the U.S., but her two sisters and her parents have lived as illegal immigrants in Arizona for decades. Garcia said she and her mother attended the community cleanup Monday to help build support for immigration reform.
"I think about my sisters and my parents, and I want to help them," Garcia said.
President Barack Obama has called on Congress to send him immigration legislation that would put the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants on a path toward citizenship.
Arizona has some of the toughest anti-immigration laws in the nation.
Democratic state Rep. Ruben Gallego told the youth gathered at the event that their activism has helped advance the national debate on immigration reform.
"This has gone beyond a race issue," he said. "This is a social justice issue."