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Illegal immigrants protest US decision to limit jobs

Hundreds of people, many of them undocumented immigrants, gathered at Independence Mall to protest.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2006 12:05 IST

Hundreds of people, many of them undocumented immigrants, gathered at Independence Mall to protest a bill in Congress to stop unlawful immigrants from getting jobs.

Demonstrators waved flags from Mexico, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic and chanted "Si se puede" -- "Yes we can" -- as they packed the snow-covered lawn of the Independence Visitors Centre.

"We are united and we will fight for liberty," said Angel Cordero, who held a sign that read, "We Are All Immigrants."

Other demonstrators and speakers hailed from countries including China and Indonesia, and spoke to the crowd in their native tongues.

The Border and Immigration Enforcement Act of 2005 passed in the House of Representatives in December and is awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Under the measure, undocumented immigrants would be categorised as aggravated felons and anyone who assists them -- from employers to clergy -- would be classified as criminal "alien smugglers."

Tuesday's protest was called "A Day Without An Immigrant," because many demonstrators did not go to work as a way to illustrate how the absence of undocumented "shadow workers" affects businesses.

An estimated 11 million workers -- roughly 5 per cent of the US work force -- are undocumented.

The work stoppage was planned for Valentine's Day because many of the protesters are Mexicans who work in Philadelphia's restaurants. The holiday is one of the busiest dining days of the year.

"They know that they could lose their jobs but they also understand why it was so important to come out today," said Ricardo Diaz, one of the event organisers.

The location also was signficant -- the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were created at Independence Hall.

Rally organisers urged attendees to tell Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, to reject the bill and instead support reforms that would help illegal immigrants to earn legal status so they could remain in the United States.

"We are the ones who work the vegetable fields, we are the ones who wash the dishes and clear off the tables in all the restaurants," demonstrator Jose Aguila said through an interpreter.

"We are here to work and to make a better life for our children and we must stand up for ourselves and not hide in fear anymore."

About five counter-protesters held up signs across the street from the rally that said illegal immigrants should be jailed.

First Published: Feb 15, 2006 12:05 IST