DALLAS (AP) - Demonstrators banged drums, waved U.S. flags and shouted "Si Se Puede!" - Spanish for "Yes, we can!" - in a protest urging federal lawmakers to pass immigration reform that would legalize an estimated 11 million undocumented workers.
Police put the crowd at between 350,000 and 500,000 people. Rallies in the capitals of Minnesota and Iowa also drew thousands of protesters.
Dozens of demonstrations nationwide were set for Monday, a signal that what began as a string of disparate events - attracting tens and even hundreds of thousands of people - has become more coordinated.
"We don't have a leader like Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez, but this is now a national immigrant rights movement," said Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which has helped organize Chicago-area rallies.
Activists say the Senate's decision last week not to push a bill that would have given many illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship is neither a cause for celebration nor a lost opportunity - it's a chance to regroup. And that's what they plan to do at demonstrations from Florida to Oregon that include school walkouts and marches in major cities.
|(AP) Students rally against immigration reform outside Los Angeles' City Hall, in this March 27, 2006...|
Across California, more than 20 events were planned Monday, ranging from a rally in Bakersfield to a ceremony in San Diego dedicated to immigrants who have died while trying to cross the border illegally.
In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been at the forefront of the Catholic Church's calls for activism in support of illegal immigrants, planned to lead a candlelight vigil.
In Georgia, where the governor is expected to sign a bill that would require verification of legal status before adults could reap many state-administered benefits, as many as 30,000 people were expected to march in an Atlanta protest, said organizer Adelina Nicholls. Her group, Alianza 17 de Marzo, staged a work stoppage last month.
Many groups had been preparing to rally since December, when the House passed a bill to build more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border; make criminals of people who helped undocumented immigrants; and make it a felony, rather than a civil infraction, to be in the country illegally.
Those mostly local and regional efforts, supported by popular Spanish-language disc jockeys, quickly converted into national plans after hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in dozens of cities last month, culminating March 25 with a 500,000-person rally in Los Angeles.
On Sunday, many of those who crammed into the streets of downtown Dallas wore white clothing to symbolize peace. Marchers included families pushing strollers with their children.
Among the marchers was Marina Resendiz, a 25-year-old premed student at the University of Texas at Arlington who illegally came to Dallas from Mexico with her family as a teenager and went on to attend public schools in Dallas.
"It's hard to study if you don't have a green card. I graduated third in my class but I couldn't get any scholarships," she said as bells from the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe tolled in the background. "We don't want to be separated from our families."
One protester hoisted a sign that read "We love the USA, we work, we study, we contribute to the economy of the nation."
Supporters included business owner Michael Longcrier, who carried a sign that read "We work because of the hard working immigrants that work."
"I have friends in this march. I have friends that make my business work," said Longcrier, who said he employs at least one illegal immigrant at his used clothing business.
Hundreds of police were on hand but there were no reports of violence.
Dallas has a large Mexican population but is also home to immigrants from Kosovo, Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq, El Salvador, Colombia and other countries.
Immigrants and their children, U.S. and foreign born, account for 40 percent of North Texas residents. And about half of the region's foreign born residents are undocumented, according to a study by DFW International Community Alliance.
A similar march was held Sunday in nearby Fort Worth.
In Minnesota, more than 10,000 immigrants and their supporters massed outside the Capitol in St. Paul this afternoon to call for legal rights. Demonstrators waved flags from the United States, Mexico and other countries.
In the Iowa capital of Des Moines, more than 5,000 people gathered to rally against proposed federal legislation and to ask for greater understanding of the immigration issue from all Americans.
AP writer Peter Prengaman contributed to this story from Los Angeles.