Immigrants Flex Economic Muscle

Demonstrators march through dowtown Sacramento, Calif., as part of a nationwide work boycott, Monday May, 1, 2006. Forming seas of red, white and blue, chanting "USA, USA" and singing the national anthem in English, illegal immigrants and supporters rallied by the thousands in California on Monday as part of a nationwide work boycott designed to demonstrate economic power. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)
Hundreds of thousands of mostly Hispanic immigrants skipped work and took to the streets Monday, flexing their economic muscle in a nationwide boycott that succeeded in slowing or shutting many farms, factories, markets and restaurants.

From Los Angeles to Chicago, Houston to New Orleans, the "Day Without Immigrants" attracted widespread participation despite divisions among activists over whether a boycott would send the right message to Washington lawmakers considering sweeping immigration reform.

"We are the backbone of what America is, legal or illegal, it doesn't matter," said Melanie Lugo, who was among thousands attending a rally in Denver with her husband and their third-grade daughter. "We butter each other's bread. They need us as much as we need them."

Police estimated 400,000 people marched through Chicago's business district and tens of thousands more rallied in New York and Los Angeles, where police stopped giving estimates at 60,000 as the crowd kept growing. CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts reports the impact was felt on Los Angeles' famed 7th Street Market as 85 businesses closed.

An estimated 75,000 rallied in Denver, more than 15,000 in Houston and 30,000 more across Florida. Smaller rallies in cities from Pennsylvania and Connecticut to Arizona and South Dakota attracted hundreds.

In Los Angeles, protesters wearing white and waving U.S. flags sang the national anthem in English as traditional Mexican dancers wove through the crowd.

CBS News' Jennifer Miller reports from Chicago — one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States, with Mexicans making up its largest foreign-born population — that immigrants of all ethnicities gathered together in a show of unity. They marched, many holding hands, three miles through the heart of the city.

In Phoenix, protesters formed a human chain in front of Wal-Mart and Home Depot stores. A protest in Tijuana, Mexico, blocked vehicle traffic heading to San Diego at the world's busiest border crossing.

CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reported from Dodge City, Kan., where 15,000 Hispanic immigrants make up half the area's population. Thousands marched down Main Street, where usually busy Hispanic-owned shops were closed.

Many carried signs in Spanish that translated to "We are America" and "Today we march, tomorrow we vote." Others waved Mexican flags or wore hats and scarves from their native countries. Some chanted "USA" while others shouted slogans, such as "Si se puede!," Spanish for "Yes, it can be done!" Others were more irreverent, wearing T-shirts that read "I'm illegal. So what?"

"They should be commended for taking these steps, although I do think it was a little bit of a distraction," commented New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. "What I would like to see is demonstration in Washington, in the Congress."

The White House reacted coolly.

"The president is not a fan of boycotts," said press secretary Scott McClellan. "People have the right to peacefully express their views, but the president wants to see comprehensive reform pass the Congress so that he can sign it into law."

Pitts reports that unlike last month's wave of demonstrations, politicians didn't simply take notice, many also showed up Monday.

"The problem is we've been engaging in hypocrisy in this country," Sen. Barak Obama, D-Ill., told Pitts. "We don't mind these folks mowing our lawns, looking after our children or serving us at restaurants, as long as they don't actually ask for any rights in return."