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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 April 2006, 06:52 GMT 07:52 UK
Thousands in NY immigration rally
Protesters in New York
The New York rally was the largest of a number across the US
Thousands of demonstrators have marched through New York to protest against tougher immigration laws.

The protesters, most of them Hispanic, marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to the edge of Chinatown carrying banners saying "We are not criminals".

The House of Representatives has passed a bill making it a felony to be in the US without correct paperwork and the Senate is debating other measures.

Other, smaller protests were held on Saturday in a number of US cities.

'Blood, sweat and tears'

The New York protest, stretching a mile long, was a colourful parade bearing the flags of many nations

Why are people called illegal immigrants when they have shed blood, sweat and tears to work in this country?
Camella Pinkney-Price,
Hispanic Evangelical Churches

Banners included slogans such as "If you hurt immigrants you are hurting America", "We are your economy" and "I cleaned up Ground Zero".

One protester, George Criollo, told the Associated Press news agency his family, from Ecuador, was in the US illegally but he felt he had to speak up.

"We came to say that we're here. We have to speak, legal or illegal. We have to speak about this issue," he said.

Camella Pinkney-Price, of the Hispanic Evangelical Churches, said: "Why are people called illegal immigrants when they have shed blood, sweat and tears to work in this country?"

The object of the protest is legislation passed by the House in December that defines illegal immigrants as criminals and calls for a 700 mile (1,120km) anti-immigration fence along the Mexican border.

The Senate is now considering a competing law that would give illegal immigrants the chance to become US citizens.

This bill would also toughen workplace rules for immigrants and create a "guest worker" programme that is favoured by President George W Bush.

The site of other protests on Saturday included Costa Mesa near Los Angeles in California where about 1,500 people gathered.

Costa Mesa council wants to give police the authority to enforce federal immigration law.

About 5,000 people joined a march in Oklahoma City in favour of illegal immigrants' rights.

A march a week ago in Los Angeles drew up to half a million people and another rally is planned for Washington on Sunday.

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