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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 April 2006, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Immigrants find strength in numbers
By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Los Angeles

Anywhere else and you might have expected to see vast numbers of police.

Protester in Los Angeles
The protesters' slogans are inclusive and non-confrontational
But not here and not with these people.

It is downtown Los Angeles and once again thousands of Latinos have marched, in peace, to claim the right for illegal immigrants to stay here.

It was the same in more than 60 cities - 100,000 in New York, equal numbers in Phoenix.

This is a campaign turning into a movement.

It is drawing people like Freddie and Maria. Freddie lives here legally but Maria, his wife, does not.

They fear she will be deported at any time. She dreads separation from her husband and her two daughters.

They never leave the state of California, believing that crossing state lines puts them at risk of exposure.

They hardly go out. Freddie admits it is no way to live.

Two sides

A short distance away one speaker at the rally asks everyone to put down their Mexican flags and wave the stars and stripes instead.

Yolanda Araujo holds a giant resident alien card
Some protesters found novel ways to make their point
The plea goes down well. People want to be part of their new country.

"Somos America" read the banners.

It means "We are America", and they believe it.

Further south many do not see it that way.

Santa Ana in Orange County is a more conservative place. Hispanics marched here as well but their numbers were in the hundreds, not thousands.

Bravely, some might say foolishly, one woman stepped up to confront them. It happened right in front of us.

She took on the crowd, demanding to know why it was acceptable they should be able to break the law.

She would be arrested for speeding, she said, so why are they not being arrested for crossing the border without papers?

Election priority

Night vigil in Los Angeles
Demonstrations continued into the night on Monday
That kind of talk may be shared by three out of every four Americans, according to some polls, but it is not often heard in public.

When the woman had taken on everyone in sight the crowd duly booed her and moved off.

They do not want confrontation. Instead they want to influence politicians.

"Today we march, tomorrow we vote" is their fast-emerging slogan.

They know congressional elections loom in November. This issue has given Hispanics a united voice and right now they are using it to speak loud and clear.

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