Watch CBSN Live

"¡Si, Se Puede!" Say Immigrants

Tens of thousands of immigrants spilled into the streets in dozens of cities across the nation Monday in peaceful protests that some compared to the civil rights campaigns led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.

Some demonstrators carried banners reading "¡Si, se puede! [Yes, we can!]", a slogan that was a favorite of Chavez back in the days when he worked to organize migrant workers and others who worked on farms for low wages and in deplorable conditions.

"People of the world, we have come to say this is our moment," said Rev. James Orange of the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda in Atlanta, where police estimated that at least 50,000 people marched Monday morning.

At the Mississippi Capitol, 500 demonstrators sang "We Shall Overcome" in Spanish. In Pittsburgh, protesters gathered outside Sen. Arlen Specter's office to make their voices heard as Congress considers immigration reforms.

Groups in North Carolina and Dallas called for an economic boycott by immigrants to show their financial impact.

The rallies had a noticeable impact on production at Excel Corp. plants in Dodge City, Kan., and Schuyler, Neb., a spokesman for the nation's second-largest beef processor said. He said there was a slowdown, but the company had no intention of taking action against workers who were gone for the day.

A CBS News poll (.pdf) released Monday finds wide support for letting illegal immigrants remain in the U.S. if they meet certain criteria. Seventy-four percent of Americans say illegal immigrants should be able to stay and work in this country if they: pay a fine, have been in the U.S. for at least five years, pay any back taxes owed, can speak English, and have no criminal record.

Those criteria match those in the Senate compromise bill that was shelved last week.

Most Americans are not concerned about competition in the workplace: over half say immigrants take jobs that Americans do not want.

While President Bush advocates the general approach most Americans approve of, he's not getting any credit for it, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports. Only 26 percent approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling the issue.

Atlanta police estimated that at least 50,000 people, many in white T-shirts and waving American flags, joined a two-mile march from a largely immigrant neighborhood Monday morning.

The protesters had two targets in Georgia: congress members weighing immigration reform and state legislation now awaiting Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature that would require adults seeking many state-administered benefits to prove they are in the U.S. legally.

Nineth Castillo, a 26-year-old waitress from Guatemala who joined the Atlanta march, said she has lived in the United States for 11 years "without a scrap of paper."

Asked whether she was afraid to parade her undocumented status in front of a massive police presence, she laughed and said: "Why? They kick us out, we're coming back tomorrow."

CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports there's been talk of rousing a "sleeping giant" — what some call the usually quiet Latino population — for decades, but it's political power has never been fully realized.

But Whitaker reports that this time it is different because immigration is personal, affecting most families — and now they are supported by unions and churches. The Spanish language media and the Internet reach nationwide, and their political muscle is growing.

Hundreds of Latinos in North Carolina were called on to skip work or boycott all purchases Monday to demonstrate the financial impact of the Latino community on area businesses.

"We're hoping that employers stop to consider what this is all about," organizer Adriana Galvez said. "That if you need people here to do the work, to buy, then give them a legal channel to get here."

CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts reports of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in America, over 7 million work, and about 4 million pay taxes, and according to labor statistics, work at low-paying jobs most Americans are unwilling to do.

Pitts reports it is cheap labor with a hidden price tag. Undocumented workers pay $10 billion in federal taxes, but another $15 billion goes unpaid. And, illegal immigrants cost the American taxpayer $2.2 billion in health care costs, Pitt reports.

Cruz Luna, his wife and their four children all wore T-shirts reading "God Bless America" at a demonstration in Pensacola, Fla. The two oldest children — ages 8 and 9 — were born in Mexico and are in the U.S. illegally; their younger siblings, ages 4 and 8 months are U.S. citizens.

"We want to send a strong message today, a message that we want the laws to be fair," Luna said.

In Arizona, police estimated that at least 25,000 demonstrators turned out in Phoenix while several thousand others demonstrated in Tucson. Miguel Penate, a fast-food restaurant manager who moved from El Salvador six years ago, said being in the country illegally was his only option.

"There's no way to come legally over here," said Penate, 25. "If there was, do you think people would like to be in the desert risking their lives?"

Yinka Aganga Williams, who moved to the U.S. from Nigeria six years ago, joined a small group of demonstrators who marched to Specter's Pittsburgh office.

"This country was built by immigrants, Pittsburgh in particular," said Williams, 54. "This is supposed to be a land of freedom, that's why they came."

In the Midwest, an estimated 3,000 people demonstrated in Garden City, Kan., a farming community that counts fewer than 30,000 residents. In Champaign, Ill., hundreds of demonstrators marched along a busy street to the University of Illinois campus, carrying signs with slogans such as: "The pilgrims had no green cards."

The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, though in Portland, Maine, one demonstrator clashed with a small group of counter-demonstrators. One of three people carrying signs saying illegal immigrants have no rights was hit in the head.

An event in Harrisburg, Pa., drew a handful of hecklers.

"Go to jail!" shouted William Hazzard, 58, a retired school custodian from Harrisburg. "I'm from Germany and I had to give up my rights as a German citizen. I had to speak English."

Raymond Marks, 47, an apartment complex service manager, held an upside-down American flag as a sign of distress.

"These people are expecting me to give them rights they don't deserve," he said.

Monday's demonstrations followed a weekend of rallies in 10 states that drew up to 500,000 people in Dallas, 50,000 in San Diego, and 20,000 in Salt Lake City. Dozens of rallies and student walkouts, many organized by Spanish-language radio DJ's, have been held in cities from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York over the past two weeks.

Protesters have been urging Congress, whose immigration reform efforts stalled last week, to help the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants settle here legally.

Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas told CBS News that Monday's demonstrations will be followed by another type of protest.

"There is also a day of boycott, economic boycott, planned for May 1 in which organizers say that they want to show Americans that a day without an immigrant can be a day when the U.S. economy will be suffering," Salinas said.

Xavier Suarez, 46, an Ecuadorian immigrant with U.S. citizenship, said others deserve the same right to live and work in America, pay taxes and contribute to society,

"America is a country of dreams. These people have dreams," said Suarez, who demonstrated in Lake Worth, Fla. "They have family back home in their countries and they've been separated for many years. It's only fair that they are allowed to be together again here, and to help keep this country growing."

View CBS News In