Thousands of immigrants march in LA to protest plan by Bush

By PETER PRENGAMAN, Associated Press Writer

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Los Angeles (AP) -- Thousands of people marched through downtown on Saturday, 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 U.S. 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. "He will become the No. 1 coyote."

Garcia said he was in the U.S. legally but has several brothers here illegally.

Alfredo Gonzalez, 33, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, marched with his wife and daughters, ages 6 and 8. He said he fears the stepped-up 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."

The march passed through one of most heavily Hispanic districts in downtown, collecting people who had come to do their weekend shopping. At City Hall, protesters listened to a number of immigrant rights speakers.

Advocates say many of the area'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," he said.

The White House's draft plan, leaked last week, 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 U.S. embassy or consulate to re-enter 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 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 Senate conservatives 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 reform bill that angered immigrant communities and led to massive protests.

"Last year, we were fighting for legalization, and this year we are fighting for legalization and against all these raids," said Maria Lopez, 50, an illegal immigrant who works as a seamstress and sends $200 a month home to family members in Mexico.

"We have no way to come up with that much money, and Bush knows that," she said. "He is doing this on purpose so we don't ever become legal residents."