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Thousands march for immigrant rights

Schools, businesses feel impact as students, workers walk out

Protesters gather Monday morning in Homestead, Florida, south of Miami.


Will the massive demonstrations affect immigration reform legislation?
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Companies affected by Monday's demonstrations include:

Tyson Foods Inc. - closed a dozen of 100 plants, reduced staff at others

Perdue Farms - closed 8 of 14 chicken plants

Goya Foods - suspended delivery everywhere except Florida

Gold Kist - closed two poultry facilities, reduced staff at two others

Cargill Meat Solutions - closed plants in six states

McDonald's Corp. - some restaurants operated with limited crews

Source: The Associated Press



CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Kids skipped school. Men and women walked off their jobs. Others didn't bother going to work. Businesses shut down for lack of patrons or employees.

Throngs of immigrants and advocates took to the streets of many U.S. cities Monday to protest proposed immigration laws, and the sites represented a veritable where's where of American metropolises.

Among them: New York; Washington; Las Vegas, Nevada; Miami, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Watch sights and sounds from rallies across the nation -- 6:01)

Organizers of the nationwide event, dubbed "A Day Without Immigrants," asked those opposing tighter restrictions on immigration -- namely immigrants themselves -- to flex their economic muscle by boycotting all aspects of commerce, including going to work and school.

Chicago was the site of one of the largest protests, with about 300,000 demonstrators marching downtown, according to the city's emergency management center. Predominantly Latino schools in the city saw a 10 to 33 percent drop in attendance.

As protesters marched through the Windy City's business district, some waved Mexican and American flags and carried signs that read, "We're not terrorists" and "We build your homes."

It is unclear what impact the walkouts and demonstrations will have on the U.S. economy. The turnout was lower than predicted. Participants were likely to buy extra food and supplies before or after Monday. And absent employees will return to their jobs with extra work awaiting them. (Watch the economic impact of Monday's protests -- 1:18)

Despite the numbers, police were not concerned that the protests would turn ugly; instead, they said, they were working with organizers to ensure the protests were peaceful. Officers securing the rally point had no plans to don riot gear.

In New York, organizers arranged a human chain at 12:16 p.m. to symbolize December 16, 2005, the day a controversial bill passed the House that would make illegal immigrants felons and wall off about a third of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In all, 12,000 people turned out to form eight chains: five in Manhattan, one in Queens, one in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx, said Norman Eng of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Participants in a 4 p.m. rally planned to march from Union Square Park in Manhattan to the city's Federal Plaza, a mile away.

From San Francisco to Miami

Los Angeles witnessed a massive protest, as at least 200,000 marched to City Hall on Monday morning, and 400,000 marched along the city's Wilshire Corridor on Monday evening.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the protests "very positive" and said, "What's clear is that they're peaceful. What's clear is that they're in a celebratory mood."

In San Francisco, 55,000 people banged on drums while waving Mexican and American flags and chanting in Spanish, "We are united." Many businesses in the city's predominantly Mexican Mission neighborhood shut down.

In Washington, hundreds of protesters participated in a demonstration at Malcolm X Park, and several shops and restaurants closed for the protests.

But the vibe in the nation's capital was not totally pro-immigrant. A coalition of Hispanic-American groups held a news conference to stress that the protesters did not represent all Hispanics. (Watch how it's getting tougher to enter the U.S. legally -- 2:38)

Retired Col. Albert F. Rodriguez, a war veteran, said he understands the contribution immigrants have made to the United States, "but the difference is that we and millions of others like us did it legally. We're all here today to tell all those illegal protesters, 'You do not speak for me.' "

In other protests, more than a thousand gathered for a march and rally in New Orleans, which has seen an influx of immigrant labor since Hurricane Katrina left the city in ruins last year. Many construction businesses shut down for the day.

Atlanta saw a similar-sized crowd at the state Capitol, and many immigrant-owned businesses shut down for the day. Thousands also marched in Denver, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; Miami, Florida, Homestead, Florida; Salem, Oregon; and Portland, Oregon.

Despite the turnout across the nation, some who typically support immigrants questioned the effectiveness of a day without them.

One of those was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Latino, who said he was concerned about sending the message that immigrants "come to America to work, yet they're not working."

"I'd rather see the individuals, all these demonstrations, going to congressional offices, pushing the Congress to act on immigration reform," Richardson said.

Another Latino lawmaker, Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Florida, said he understood the purpose of the rallies, but said a boycott "is not the right way to go about it." (Watch Martinez call for action from his fellow lawmakers -- 9:06)

Congressional stalemate

Reform bills have stalled in Congress, primarily because Republicans and Democrats cannot agree -- even among themselves at times -- what should be done about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

The Senate is considering a proposal that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain legal status, and eventually citizenship, by working for six years, paying a fine, undergoing a background check and learning English.

Supporters of the idea call it "earned citizenship," but opponents denounce it as "amnesty."

When the House passed immigration reform in December, it took a much tougher line. The House bill contains no mechanism for illegal immigrants to earn legal status, makes illegal immigration a felony and calls for building 700 miles of security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The provision making illegal immigration a felony has been a real bone of contention, to the point that GOP leaders who once supported it have now indicated they are likely to drop the proposal when House and Senate negotiators meet to hash out final details of the bill.

President Bush has said he would like negotiators to include in the bill a guest-worker program that will allow immigrants into the country to fill jobs that Americans can't or won't do.

Bush has adamantly opposed "automatic amnesty" for illegal immigrants already in the country, but he has expressed support for "a bill that says somebody who's working here on a legal basis has the right to get in line to become a citizen."

About 7.2 million illegal immigrants hold jobs in the United States, making up 4.9 percent of the overall labor force, according to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.

Undocumented workers make up 24 percent of farm workers and hold 14 percent of construction jobs, the study found.

The Senate is expected to take up immigration reform before Memorial Day.

CNN's Ines Ferre, Lydia Garlikov, Keith Oppenheim, Scott Spoerry, Kristi Keck and Harris Whitbeck contributed to this report.

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