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.