At least 200,000 mostly Hispanic demonstrators protested in California on Saturday against moves to tighten U.S. immigration laws, while President George W. Bush urged wary Republicans to take up his guest-worker proposal.

A boisterous crowd, many wearing the red and green of the Mexican flag, packed the streets in front of Los Angeles City Hall to protest Republican bills they say would hurt the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

One, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, would make it a federal crime, instead of a civil offense, for undocumented workers to live in the country and would penalize people who help illegal immigrants. The Senate will take up the immigration issue next week.

Protester Eduardo Sotelo Piolin, a disc jockey with La Nueva radio, said he opposed the tough measures.

“I am one of thousands of people who crossed the border in the trunk of a car because I wanted a better life,” he said. “Today I’m a documented worker. But we should respect the people who are not documented and we should not treat them like criminals.”

Protest organizers estimated the crowd at 1 million but police spokeswoman Sara Faden put the numbers at 200,000.

Speakers took turns at a podium at the foot of the steps to City Hall, giving speeches mainly in Spanish. A live band with drums, guitars and trumpets played music nearby.

Some demonstrators carried homemade paper signs. One read: “Illegal immigrants are welcome to go to war, but why can’t we have a job, home or license?”

On Friday, as many as 15,000 marched in Phoenix in a similar demonstration. In Chicago, police estimated that 75,000 to 100,000 rallied on March 10 to protest tough changes in immigration law. More protests are planned in 10 cities on April 10.


Bush pushed his plan for a guest-worker plan and better border enforcement in his weekly radio address on Saturday.

Some Republicans oppose the guest-worker plan as a back-door amnesty for illegal immigrants and prefer an approach that focuses solely on toughening border security and cracking down on illegal immigration.

Bush said securing borders was a top priority of immigration reform but invoked the country’s history as “a nation of immigrants.”

“As we debate the immigration issue, we must remember there are hardworking individuals, doing jobs that Americans will not do, who are contributing to the economic vitality of our country,” Bush said.

The politics of border security has created competing pressures for Republicans as they seek to hold on to their majorities in both houses of Congress in November’s election.

The guest-worker program could attract Hispanic voters in key states like Arizona, New Mexico and Florida. But some conservative Republicans are focusing on enforcement as constituents vent frustration at what they see as a strain on schools, hospitals and other local resources from illegal immigration.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, wants to finish work on legislation that includes a temporary worker program and would give undocumented aliens an opportunity to legalize their status.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and potential 2008 presidential candidate, plans to bring to the Senate floor his own border-enforcement immigration bill if the Judiciary Committee fails to pass legislation.

The panel is to meet on Monday in hopes of rushing legislation to the floor before Frist brings up his own bill.

Bush is leaving on Wednesday for meetings in Cancun with Mexican President Vicente Fox, who has been disappointed by Bush’s failure so far to achieve progress on the guest-worker program.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan in Washington)

© 2006 Reuters