Thousands of demonstrators who want a change in immigration policy marched in downtown Los Angeles as part of May Day marches taking place across the country.
The annual marches occurred as Congress considers sweeping legislation that could provide a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.
The march wasn't as large as those from the mid-2000s — the last time Congress weighed comprehensive immigration reform. But with a bipartisan bill already introduced in the Senate, and House proposals on the way, marchers were more enthusiastic about the prospect of an immigration overhaul than they have been in years.
"Both parties are working together," said Heliodoro Cardenas, 25, who came from Montebello with his father-in-law. "Something is going to happen for a good reason."
While other May Day events were planned locally, the main event took place along Broadway downtown. Marchers gathered at Broadway and Olympic Blvd. before noon, where organizers held a rally before the crowd proceeded north. Vendors, meanwhile, did brisk business selling American flags.
Organizers put the crowd count at 5,000, although police said it was closer to 3,500. While it doesn't compare with the hundreds of thousands who marched in Los Angeles in 2006, protesters said the immigrant rights movement has since become more focused — and more diverse.
Alexandra Suh is with the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance. She says the marches have always attracted a diverse crowd, but she’s seeing a larger presence from other non-Latino groups this year.
“We feel that the march has always been diverse," said Suh, "but in terms of numbers, it is really really wonderful to see more and more representation from different communities — including Asian/Pacific isalnd communities, LGBT communities and everyone."
There was also greater presence from gay and lesbian groups, who in recent years have become a bigger part of the immigration debate. LGBT advocates are hoping the Senate will add a provision to its bill allowing same-sex partners to sponsor a foreign-born spouse, as heterosexual married couples can.
"If we look at the diversity, and particularly if we look at LGBT folks, I think there’s more presence and visibility in these marches," said Jorge Gutierrez of the Queer Undocumented Immigration Project, "and not only the marches, but overall for immigrant rights."
The immigration reform debate will resume in Washington, D.C. next week, when the House is expected to introduce its first pieces of legislation.
May Day rallies began in the United States in 2000 during a labor dispute with a restaurant in Los Angeles that drew several hundred demonstrators, said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, which organized what was expected to be Wednesday's largest rally. Crowds grew each year until the House of Representatives passed a tough bill against illegal immigration, sparking a wave of enormous, angry protests from coast to coast in 2006.
The rallies, which coincide with Labor Day in many countries outside the U.S., often have big showings from labor leaders and elected officials.