Heralded by a cacophony of trumpets, whistles and drums, the crowd of mostly Latin Americans gathered in downtown Brooklyn and trudged a path laden with symbols of the city's immigrant strength on their way to a plaza in lower Manhattan.
The marchers mustered in a neighborhood settled by the Dutch, crossed a bridge designed by a German, and finished in a square at the edge of Chinatown in an area that once held the Irish slums glamorized in the 2002 film "Gangs of New York."
On the way, they passed a French statue (the Statue of Liberty), hot dog carts run by Middle Easterners, taxis driven by Russians and police officers speaking Chinese.
More than 10,000 people flooded Foley Square, turning it into a sea of colorful banners and echoing noise. The crowd came dressed in the colors of Mexico, Uruguay and Ecuador, but just as many draped themselves in red, white and blue.
"If you hurt immigrants you are hurting America," read a sign held by one marcher. "We are your economy," said another.
Another marcher, a woman from Mexico who spoke no English, carried a sign reading, "I cleaned up ground zero."
There were demonstrations across the country this week against legislation already approved in the House, which would make it a felony to be in the U.S. without the proper immigration paperwork.
Competing legislation under consideration in the Senate would take an opposite approach and give the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. a chance at citizenship.
"We came to say that we're here," said George Criollo, who arrived in New York a decade ago from Cuenca, Ecuador. "We have to speak, legal or illegal. We have to speak about this issue."
Criollo, who said his family was in the United States illegally, feared that legislation could lead to his deportation or jailing. In the House, legislation already has passed that would set penalties for anyone who knowingly assists or encourages illegal immigrants to remain in the country.
This is one of dozens of protests, work stoppages and school walkouts taking place across the country this week.
The protests follow a , where President George W. Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper debated the immigration issue.
Mr. Bush favors a proposal that would legalize an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who are already in the U.S. through "guest worker" programs.
With Fox at his side Mr. Bush explained his view of the so-called guest worker program, CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer reports.
"We don't want people sneaking into our country that are going to do jobs that Americans won't do. We want them coming in in an orderly way which will take pressure off of both our borders," Mr. Bush said.
While both Mr. Bush and Fox support temporary guest-worker programs for Mexican migrants in the U.S, but the measure has met strong resistance by some key U.S. lawmakers.
Mr. Bush has urged U.S. lawmakers to tread cautiously to avoid further inflaming passions on this divisive issue. But Democratic Party chief Howard Dean on Friday accused the president and Republicans of exploiting the immigration issue for political gain by scapegoating Hispanics.
The debate over immigration reform is causing a major split within the Republican Party.
On Thursday, House conservatives criticized President Bush, accused the Senate of fouling the air, said prisoners rather than illegal farm workers should pick America's crops and denounced the use of Mexican flags by protesters in a vehement attack on legislation to liberalize U.S. immigration laws.
"I say let the prisoners pick the fruits," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, one of more than a dozen Republicans who took turns condemning a Senate bill that offers an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants an opportunity for citizenship.
"Anybody that votes for an amnesty bill deserves to be branded with a scarlet letter A," said Rep. Steve King of Iowa, referring to a guest worker provision in the Senate measure.
Despite the tough immigration debate back home, the president says he's optimistic that Congress will pass a bill on the politically charged issue.
The House has passed legislation to tighten border security, while the Senate approach also includes provisions to regulate the flow of temporary workers into the country and control the legal fate of millions of illegal immigrants already here. Mr. Bush has broadly endorsed the Senate approach, saying he wants a comprehensive bill.
Under Mr. Bush's leadership, the Republicans have made dramatic inroads among Hispanic voters, and party strategists fret that the immigration debate could jeopardize their gains.
Next week critics of the bill are expected to try to strip out the guest worker provision and roll back the measures relating to the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.