ANCHORAGE - A small but spunky group of Alaskans took part in nationwide protests on Monday urging lawmakers to help illegal immigrants settle legally in the U.S.
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The tiny contingent of protesters waving American flags at passing motorists outside the federal building wanted to show solidarity with the hundreds of thousands marching across the nation in cities large and small. Those rallies were the most widespread demonstrations since the mass protests began around the country last month.
The Anchorage protesters also rallied against a bill in Congress, already approved by the House, that would make illegal immigrants felons.
"No matter if there is one or 1 million, we still support protests all over the U.S.," said Daniel Esparza, a union representative in Anchorage, gesturing at the crowd of more than two dozen.
The House bill is focused on tightening the U.S.-Mexican border with 700 miles of fencing and redefining the illegal immigrants already in the country as felons. Monday marked the most widespread demonstrations since mass protests began around the country two weeks ago.
"I think it's very important for us to be here and show support to paisanos in Texas and other cities," said Ludi Zamudio, who works at the Alaska Immigration Justice Project. "Even though we're far away, we can still support them."
Zamudio moved to the U.S. from Mexico to give her children more educational opportunities.
"In Mexico you can choose to go to school or feed your family," she said. "I wanted to have both."
Protesters also waved two large Mexican flags, an Alaska flag and signs that said: "We are not criminals," "Legalize workers. Lock up criminals," and "No human being is illegal."
The crowd included several seniors and juniors from West High School.
"Our Spanish teacher wanted to come, but couldn't, so we drove here instead," said junior Milly Josephson. "We don't want the House bill to pass into law."
An estimated 11 million illegal immigrants live in the U.S., with between 5,000 to 7,000 in Alaska.
Monday's demonstrations followed a weekend of rallies in 10 states that drew up to 500,000 people in Dallas and tens of thousands elsewhere. Dozens of other rallies, many organized by Spanish-language radio DJ's, have been held nationwide over the past two weeks, including one with more than 500,000 people in Los Angeles.
On Monday thick crowds gathered in New York's Washington Square Park before marching to City Hall. Many waved flags, both American and of countries of their origin. Korean-Americans beat drums nearby. Another group marched from Chinatown, and a third demonstration took place in Brooklyn.
Police declined to estimate the size of the crowds, but organizers said 125,000 people were present at City Hall.
Peter Lanteri, director of New York's chapter of the Minutemen, a volunteer border watch group, said he thought it was "ridiculous" that illegal immigrants were protesting for their rights.
"Illegal is illegal, and they break our laws to come here," Lanteri said by telephone. "We want the illegal immigration stopped and the borders secured."
Maria Santiago, 53, an outreach coordinator for nonprofit health clinic in Harrisburg, Pa., said she sees many illegal immigrants seeking access to health care.
"These are people that are willing to take any job, clean bathrooms, scrub floors for a measly penny so that they have an opportunity to live in this country ... and yet we want to send them back because they want a better life?" Santiago said.
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