In what may be Utah's largest march since the Vietnam War era, thousands hiked up State Street to the state Capitol on Sunday, calling for permanent residency status for undocumented immigrants.
A Salt Lake police spokeswoman said it was impossible to gauge the size of the huge crowd before aerial photographs are studied Monday. Estimates were across the board, ranging up to 25,000, she said.
They walked from the City-County Building up State Street, circled the Capitol on streets to the east, north and west, then marched back down State to rally again at the City-County Building.
As they walked in what was called the Dignity March, they filled both sides of the street for blocks, a sea of faces, banners, fathers with children on their shoulders, babies pushed in strollers, teenage girls walking together and slogans chanted in Spanish. Many carried American flags.
A counterdemonstration featuring members of the Minuteman organization and supporters drew about 150.
The Salt Lake march was just one of many supporting immigration held across the nation Sunday, with more expected on Monday. While Utah's marchers were predominantly Latino, including U.S. citizens and illegal immigrants, ethnic minorities of other nationalities especially Asians were prominent in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago. Marches were also held in New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Alabama, Texas, Oregon and Idaho. In Dallas, police estimated the crowd at from 350,000 to 500,000.
The march was one of many happening nationwide in the past couple of weeks as Congress has debated immigration reform. Friday, the U.S. Senate adjourned for the Easter recess without taking action on a
bipartisan deal. Sunday, Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed optimism that senators can pass an immigration reform bill when they return from vacation.
"I think tempers will cool over a two-week period," Specter said. "And also, there are going to be some expressions by many people very unhappy with the Senate not passing a bill and very unhappy with the House bill" that would make being an illegal immigrant a felony.
In Salt Lake City Sunday, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson addressed rally participants by loudspeaker. Americans fulfill "our country's potential for greatness through the contributions of immigrants and their descendants," he said.
He quoted the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statute of Liberty's plaque, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Anderson led the crowd in chanting, "Let's work together for a better America!"
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon welcomed those at the rally, praising the diversity that immigrants bring. "The American dream should not be for a select few," Corroon said. "It should be for all of us."
At one point, a participant standing near the front used a loudspeaker to shout: "We're not terrorists or criminals!"
As the walk started, a delighted Archie Archuleta, chairman of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, said, "I'll estimate 7,000, easily." But later, as more and more walked up the street, the number seemed much greater.
Many wore white T-shirts. Families, from grandmas down to babes in arms, traveled together in the bright sunlight. Scores of American flags waved, vastly outnumbering the Mexican flags. Others carried Utah flags and even the blue banner of the United Nations.
Wearing a Utah Minuteman T-shirt, Philip Morgan, Holladay, watched from a wheelchair on the sidewalk. "Oh, I think it's shocking," he said of the march.
"I think we've got a lot of work to do with our Congress, and I think we've got a lot of work to do with Vicente Fox (president of Mexico) he's the one who should help these people, not us."
He added, "Our leaders are cowards" for not taking stronger action against illegal immigration.
Meanwhile, as they walked up State Street, marchers chanted, "Si se puede! Si se puede!" The phrase translates as "Yes, we can." Sometimes the chant changed to "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!"
At another point, the marchers chanted, "Amnistia!" in a call for amnesty for illegal migrants.
As they neared the Capitol, bystanders cheered and gave the thumbs-up sign. "Hope and work is not a crime," read a sign held by a woman in a sombrero. "Migrant workers of Utah thank you for your sacrifices," another placard proclaimed.
One sign read, "Nosotros no somos criminales" We are not criminals. Another listed hard jobs that migrants perform. "We are here and we are not leaving!" another said.
"I dream of liberty and freedom for my family," said another handmade sign. Many of the marchers carried signs with printed paper taped to cardboard rectangles. They include slogans like, "Human rights for all." From atop Capitol Hill, it was possible to look down State Street and see the enormous march filling the street past 100 South. News helicopters buzzed overhead, and people chanted and whistled and laughed.
On the grassy slope near the Capitol's front, a group of more than 100 Minutemen and their supporters had their own demonstration. Police with clubs stood nearby, the visors of their helmets up.
As thousands stopped in the streets in front of them, repeating slogans and whistling, the Minutemen stood with signs such as "No! amnesty."
The crowd paid no attention. As chants in Spanish continued, one of the counterdemonstrators yelled, "English! English! English!" Another yelled, "No amnesty!" One counter-demonstrator carried a sign, "Mexico take care of your own citizens! Close the borders!" Another read, "Just come legally."
"I guess after this government will notice us and do something for us," said Elizabeth, 14, a marcher who did not offer her last name but said she was from Mexico. "The United States economy is based very much on us, too, not just Americans," she said. "We just want respect, you know," said Gerardo Lopez, 21. "That's all we want. . . . We want to work for our families, and we want to stay."
"We came to work," echoed Barbara Valdivia of Eagle Mountain. "We don't come to do anything else, just to work and live a better life."
Rigo Menvez, 29, a Salt Lake resident, walked with a sign in one hand "I LOVE USA" and held a young daughter by the other.
Married, with two little girls, he has lived in the United States for 14 years. He said he is employed making trailers."We like to stay in United States because here's more better for the Latinos," Menvez said. "More chance to make something a dream."
Contributing: Associated Press E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org