(photo credit: AP)
More than 1 million, mostly Hispanic, immigrants to the United States and their supporters skipped work on Monday and took to the streets, flexing their economic muscle in a US-wide boycott that succeeded in slowing or shutting many farms, factories, markets and restaurants.
From Los Angeles to Chicago, Houston to Miami, the Day Without Immigrants attracted widespread participation despite divisions among activists over whether a boycott would send the right message to Washington lawmakers considering sweeping immigration reform.
"This country needs us. We are the strong arms that do all the tough jobs," said Donna Maria Mostache, a 43-year-old cook and illegal immigrant who marched in Los Angeles. "We can't be afraid to come out and say who we are."
The boycott was organized by immigrant activists who were angered by federal legislation that would criminalize the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and fortify the US-Mexico border. Its goal was to raise awareness about immigrants' economic power.
Two major rallies in Los Angeles attracted an estimated 400,000, according to the mayor's office. Police in Chicago estimated that 400,000 people marched through the downtown business district.
Tens of thousands more marched in New York, along with 30,000 in Houston; 50,000 in San Jose, California; and 30,000 more throughout Florida. From New Mexico to Tennessee to Massachusetts, smaller rallies attracted hundreds more.
In all, police departments in more than two dozen US cities gave crowd estimates that totaled some 1.1 million marchers.
Rallies in Washington, D.C. were scattered, but the White House took note - spokesman Scott McClellan said US President George W. Bush disapproved of the boycott.
While most demonstrations were peaceful, a Santa Ana, California, rally of 5,000 was marred by people hurling rocks and plastic bottles at officers. Police made several arrests, but it was unclear if they were protesters.
Many carried signs in Spanish that translated to "We are America" and "Today we march, tomorrow we vote." Others waved Mexican flags or wore hats and scarves from their native countries.