NEW YORK – Thousands of immigrant rights supporters formed a line stretching more than a mile long Saturday as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, waving flags from more than a dozen countries as they demonstrated against possible immigration reform in Congress.
Heralded by a cacophony of trumpets, whistles and drums, the crowd of mostly Latin Americans gathered in downtown Brooklyn and trudged a path laden with symbols of the city's immigrant strength on their way to a plaza in lower Manhattan.
The marchers mustered in a neighborhood settled by the Dutch, crossed a bridge designed by a German, and finished in a square at the edge of Chinatown in an area that once held the Irish slums depicted in the 2002 film "Gangs of New York."
On the way, they passed the Statue of Liberty, hot dog carts run by Middle Easterners, taxis driven by Russians and police officers speaking Chinese.
More than 10,000 people flooded Foley Square, turning it into a sea of colorful banners and echoing noise. The crowd came dressed in the colors of Mexico, Uruguay and Ecuador, but just as many draped themselves in red, white and blue.
"If you hurt immigrants you are hurting America," read a sign held by one marcher. Others read "We are your economy" and "I cleaned up ground zero."
There were demonstrations across the country this week against legislation already approved in the House, which would make it a felony to be in the U.S. without the proper immigration paperwork.
Competing legislation under consideration in the Senate would take an opposite approach and give the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. a chance at citizenship.
"We came to say that we're here," said George Criollo, who arrived in New York a decade ago from Cuenca, Ecuador. "We have to speak, legal or illegal. We have to speak about this issue."
Criollo, who said his family was in the United States illegally, feared that legislation could lead to his deportation or jailing. In the House, legislation already has passed that would set penalties for anyone who knowingly assists or encourages illegal immigrants to remain in the country.
In Costa Mesa, Calif., more than 1,000 people protested the crackdown on illegal immigrants.
"Aiding my kids should not be a crime," said Dagoberto Zavala, 52, who immigrated from El Salvador to the Santa Ana area, and said he brought his two children into the United States illegally. "Congress needs to know the laws we have don't work."
Last year, the Costa Mesa City Council approved a policy that would give local police in certain cases the authority to enforce federal immigration law. The plan, which would be the first in the nation, still must be approved by federal officials.
In Oklahoma City, more than 5,000 people jammed into the Capitol's south plaza to protest proposals in the Legislature designed to stop illegal immigrants from receiving tax-supported services, such as Medicaid and food stamps, and require state employees to report suspected illegal aliens.
Supporters planned a rally at the Capitol on Sunday.