PHOENIX - College students, parents, grandparents and young children were among an estimated 3,000 people who marched through downtown Phoenix Saturday as part of a nationwide effort to kick-start stalled immigration reform efforts in Washington.
The marchers wearing red shirts were led by drummers and carried flags and banners as they chanted "Si, se Puede!" and "Yes, we can," the motto of the United Farmworkers Union that has been embraced by immigration activists.
They carried signs calling for respect and rallied at the federal courthouse at the end of the miles-long march.
The march was one of many planned across the nation on a "National Day for Dignity and Respect" by groups that support immigrants, including events in Tucson and Yuma. There was a heavy police presence, but Phoenix police reported no problems.
"We are very frustrated, because a lot of families are being torn apart because of this immigration problem we're having," said Rosanna Castro, a 28-year-old mother of five who is a U.S. citizen but has immigrants in her family. "So we're asking for this immigration reform to help keep our families together. And also to give children an opportunity to be able to finish high school and go on to college and a career and not just stop at high school."
A handful of people opposed to immigration reform gathered across from the federal courthouse in front of a banner urging the government not to repeat the amnesty included in a 1986 immigration reform measure.
"All I want is our laws enforced. And people need to know that there's two sides to this story," said Valerie Roller, from Glendale. She noted pictures on a banner that showed Arizonans killed by people who were in the country illegally. While she supported the activists' right to march, she said she wanted those without legal status gone.
"My premise is that if we enforce the laws we have, the majority of them will do self-deportation," Roller said.
Many who marched brought their families, with strollers and wagons filled with young children common.
Maria Del Carmen Polano, 55, who immigrated from the south-central Mexican state of Morelos 26 years ago, said she wanted deportations that tear families apart stopped and wanted to raise her voice against what she called "all the racism that's been going on here in Arizona for many years."
"This message is not just for the government here in Arizona but it's for the government of all the United States, especially for President Obama," she said in Spanish as her daughter, Nubia Martinez, interpreted. "Congress can fix the situation, because deep down inside even though they might hate to admit it, they need us. Because not too many Americans are willing to do what we call the cheap labor" such as people working at restaurants and hotels or in agriculture.
An immigration reform plan pushed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers has passed the Senate but has been stalled in the House.
Miguel Solis, a 26-year-old who was brought to the U.S. from the central Pacific coast state of Michoacan when he was 12, said he has benefited from last year's presidential decree giving legal status to young immigrants who haven't been in legal trouble.
"Like every other (person), I have a dream, and I'm going to school, I'm working and I want to get my degree," said Solis, who is working and going to college. He said he wanted others to feel the relief he's experiencing.
"There's a big difference, because before I used to be afraid of the sheriff, I used to be afraid of the police," Solis said. "And like other immigrants, we tried to live under profile, not trying to be on the streets that much because we all are scared like someday we're gonna get pulled and they're going to ask for papers and maybe get deported."