CHICAGO – Thousands of people supporting more lenient treatment of illegal immigrants marched through downtown Chicago and rallied at the lakefront Wednesday, calling for a moratorium on deportations.
The marchers passed through downtown in waves, some chanting "We are Americans!" and others hoisting U.S. flags and signs with messages such as "Deportation equals broken families" and "We build your American dream."
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D.-Ill, fired up the crowd at the rally in Grant Park, telling them: "It is through your actions and mobilizations that you will get Congress to act on immigration reform."
Chicago Police Superintendent Philip Cline estimated the crowd at 10,000 and said it was a peaceful event with no arrests. Event organizers said they believed 50,000 participated.
The marchers did not encounter protests along the route, although the Illinois Minuteman Civil Defense Corps held a news conference to push state and local authorities to be more aggressive about identifying illegal immigrants and fraudulent immigration documents.
The focus of the city's third large immigration rally since March was to urge the government to stop deporting illegal immigrants and to put a moratorium on sanctions against businesses that employ them while Congress debates immigration legislation.
"It causes an economic crisis (for businesses) as well as hurt these people's personal lives when they get deported," said Emma Lozano, executive director of one of the organizing groups, Centro Sin Fronteras. "We have to stop separating families."
The U.S. House passed a bill late last year that would make it a felony for illegal immigrants to be in the U.S. That prompted rallies by Latinos and others protesting for immigrants' rights, including a massive one in Chicago in May that drew about 400,000 marchers.
The Senate, backed by the president, passed a bipartisan bill that would increase border security while also providing a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
So far, the House and Senate have reached no consensus on the issue.
Organizers say some immigrants being deported are then banned from returning to the United States for years. A 19-day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid that ended last month brought more than 2,100 arrests, including at least 75 in Illinois.
Carlos Herrera, 25, of Chicago said he moved to the United States with his parents when he was 5 years old.
"How could I break the law when I was 5 years old?" Herrera asked as the group headed out on a three-mile walk in the 90-degree heat.
"I'm an American because I've been here all my life," he said. "There's just that piece of paper that says I'm not."