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Update: Police estimate immigration rally crowd at 20,000

Published April 9, 2006 1:24 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Thousands of mostly Latino Utahns jammed State Street in Salt Lake City Sunday afternoon for a "Dignity March" to the Utah State Capitol, aimed at demonstrating the strength of numbers with immigration reform legislation the focus of fierce debate in Congress and around the nation.

By early evening, city police were estimating the crowd at about 20,000, while organizers put the number closer to 50,000.

A group of several hundred anti-illegal immigrant demonstrators calling themselves the "Pro-America Rally" also marched from the Salt Lake City-County Building to the Capitol.

There were no early reports of disturbances but there were incidents of yelling back and forth and at least one exchange of obscenities.

The huge, largely Latino, pro-immigrant crowd was led up State Street by a group carrying a huge American flag.

American flags and symbols were conspicuous throughout the crowd that began gathering before noon at Washington Square where the City-County building is located. Many people dressed in white as a symbol of peace and unity, some wrapping themselves in American flags and others with flags or bald eagles on their clothing.

There was a scattering of flags from Mexico and other counties but many in the throng carried or wore strictly American symbols as organizers had urged.

The march began about 1:40 p.m. after the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance in English, with the crowd filling State Street, which had been blocked off by police officers who directed traffic away from the area. The crowds chanted "Paz, Unidad," or Peace, Unity, and "Ya, Basta" or Enough, and in English, "I am a Latino and I will vote."

Signs on display included ones that read: "I dream of liberty and freedom for my family," "Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Self," "Peace and Dignity," and "To Work is not a felony."

Some in the crowd shouted "Si, se puede," or "Yes, it can be done," meaning, several participants said, that they would fight for their rights.

One sign had Spanish and English on opposite sides that read "I was born in USA. Do not divide my family," reflecting the sentiment of families with children who were born in the United States and are legal citizens while their parents are not.

Mia Mendiola, 27, came with her with family from Ogden, where she works as a mail clerk for the Internal Revenue Service.

"We're not criminals. We're in America. We're all equal," said Mendiola, whose father had immigrated from Mexico. "We're not terrorists. We're here to work."

Ana Montes, 10, a fifth grader at Lincoln Elementary in Salt Lake City, who was present with her family, said they had moved to Utah from Mexico five years ago. She called the United States "home" and said "where I used to live people use to rob and steal. Here, it's calm and peaceful."

Montes said she wants to be a lawyer when she grows up.

The "Pro-America Rally" also began early in the afternoon and had drawn perhaps as many as 200 people to an adjacent area Washington Square . Participants carried signs that said such things as "Illegals are welcome when they use [the] door my family used," "No Amnesty, no guest workers citizenship," "No Amnesty, close the borders, deport illegals" and "MEXICO, Take care of your citizens! CLOSE THE BORDERS."

There were exchanges as Hispanics walked or drove by on their way to the other gathering. At one point, a demonstrator shouted at an Hispanic passerby "You're taking money from American people." The passerby said something and walked away.

Another demonstrator yelled loudly "Speak English, Lady!" to an Hispanic woman in a car who had said something to the group while waiting at a red light.

Early in the afternoon, Tony Yapias, an organizer of the Dignity March, approached and shook hands with Alex Segura, a Utah Minuteman organizer of the counter-demonstration. Segura said he and Yapias had spoken on Saturday and agreed they wanted to keep the two marches peaceful.

Benjamin Lowe of Provo said he was attending the "Pro-America" counter-march because of the costs of the benefits he said illegal workers were obtaining in the United States and because he was worried about the loss of jobs.

"I've seen a lot of my friends, construction workers, lose their jobs," Lowe said.

Scott Rees of American Fork said he wanted to point out the demonstration was against illegal immigration and not Latino.

"They seem to want to make this a racial issue," he said. "This isn't a racial issue. It doesn't matter where you're from. I have nothing against Mexicans."

The anti-illegal immigrant group marched to the Capitol ahead of the large "Dignity Rally." As it marched past the pro-immigrant rally, several participants shouted "USA, USA" and were greeted by cheers and whistles.

Spread out over a block, the group chanted "America, not Mexico," and "No Guest Worker Program." A "No Amnesty" sign was at the head of the march

As the Utah Minuteman Project-organized event advanced, a bystander yelled "Nazis," while another man walking the opposite way and holding an American flag said, "Same flag, same flag."

At the corner of State Street and 200 South, a Latino man and several marchers had a verbal exchange that ended with obscenities directed back and forth.

"It looks like a pretty good group," Segura told the marchers at the Capitol. "We're outnumbered obviously."

He called for the closing of the U.S. borders to illegal crossings and not defeat proposals in Congress that would grant amnesty to some of those here illegally and would create a guest-worker program.

"For God's sake, don't let them pass this bill they're talking about," he said.




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