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An estimated 50,000 protesters are on the march today, streaming through Near West Side and downtown streets on their way to an immigration rights rally at Grant Park.
The crowd numbers, supplied by Chicago Police, were far higher than organizers had predicted. Organizers had initially hoped for 5,000 people — but said they expected more after a Little Village illegal document raid last week.
The march stepped off at 1:30 p.m. at Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph. It had been fed by smaller marches from around the city that arrived at the park in time for the start.
One of those early marches began at Juarez High School in Pilsen. Thousands of people, many carrying U.S. flags, streamed up Ashland to meet up with those waiting in Union Park.
“I’m here to march for all the rights of immigrants because they don’t have rights. We need a law to document them because they don’t have a voice or a vote,” said marcher Roberto Herrera, 50, of Cicero. He was at Union Park, carrying a sign “Please God We Don’t Ask What We Want But What We Need.”
From Union Park, they walked east on Washington to Des Plaines, where the pack heads south to Jackson. The protesters will then move east across Jackson to Columbus, and then south to Hutchinson Field in the south end of Grant Park.
The rally had been scheduled for Daley Plaza, but was moved amid concerns that the plaza wouldn’t be big enough if the crowd swelled. Activists figured last Tuesday’s raid on a Little Village shopping center where federal agents seized alleged leaders of a fake document ring would add to the turnout.
Protesters came to Union Park from several meeting spots, including Adalberto United Methodist Church at 2716 W. Division, where Elvira Arellano has stayed for months to avoid deportation. She was seen staring down from a window as hundreds gathered.
The activists leading the rally want a stop to deportations and raids, legalization for the estimated 12 million illegals in the United States and comprehensive immigration reforms designed to keep families together and offer an affordable path to citizenship.
Before the march stepped off, protesters readied themselves at Union Park. They carried flags, signs and placards, including one that read: “We may not have it all together, but together we can have it all.”
Melissa Woo, a 22-year-old American citizen who immigrated from South Korea, carried a Korean flag over her shoulder as she criticized politicians, especially the children of immigrants, for ‘‘buckling at the knees.”
“Us immigrants aren’t pieces of trash, we’re human beings,” she said. “To be treated as less than human is a travesty.”
Thomas Rodriguez, of Aurora, wore a shirt that said: ‘‘We are hard workers. We’re not criminals.’’
The 38-year-old has had no legal status since he came to the United States from Mexico in 1989 and is an employee at a Japanese restaurant in Chicago.
‘‘Recent raids have worried me,’’ he said. ‘‘We worry deportations are leaving too many young people without parents.’’
Organizers of the rally hope to mimic last year’s protest that gathered hundreds of thousands of flag-waving, chanting participants to the heart of downtown. But the last minute venue change by Chicago police had organizers scrambling.
“They announced the decision [to change the venue] first and then they called us to consult us,” said Jorge Mujica, a spokesman for Chicago’s March 10 Movement group. ‘‘It doesn’t make sense.”
Some Chicago area immigrant rights groups say that ending deportations and raids are the main message of today’s action. But others disagree on the march’s meaning.
“There’s not homogenous leadership or means of communication,” said Gordon Mayer, a vice president of the Community Media Workshop, which helped organize the Chicago march. “There was a sort of energy last year. This year that boulder has split up into a lot of smaller rocks.”
Last May 1, at least 400,000 people took to Chicago’s streets and at least 1 million marched in cities across the United States. They called for fighting House Resolution 4437, known as the Sensenbrenner bill, which proposed making it a felony for all illegal immigrants to live in the United States.
While immigration rights activists were united against the Sensenbrenner bill, their views vary on the proposed STRIVE Act of 2007. It would give illegal immigrants six years of temporary legal status, but then requires they return home and seek U.S. citizenship.
Some groups oppose the legislation, saying it would divide families that are already here. But others call it a good place to start talking about immigration reform.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.