MIAMI (AP) – Thousands of immigrants and their families marched in cities from coast to coast, hoping to channel the political muscle Hispanics flexed last fall as President Barack Obama won election. This time, they hoped to jump-start an old cause: forging a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

Crowds were dampened in many areas though, as the swine flu scare kept numerous people home Friday. The area hardest hit by the swine flu is Mexico, also the native home of many rally participants.

In Miami, more than 300 minority rights activists joined with union officials in one of the first local immigration rallies to be endorsed by the AFL-CIO. Participants waved signs for immigration reform in Spanish, English and Creole. They also sought temporary protection for the state’s large community of Haitian immigrants, whose native island has been devastated in recent years by hurricanes and floods.

They chanted “W-I N-O-U K-A-P-A-B,” Creole for “Yes We Can.”

In Colorado, a march was planned Saturday in Greeley, a rural town 60 miles north of Denver, and the site of a 2006 federal raid at a meatpacking plant, in which 261 undocumented workers were detained.

Activists’ hopes have been buoyed by Obama’s election and a Democratic-controlled Congress, in part because they believe the Hispanic vote, about two-thirds of which went to Obama, helped flip key battleground states such as Colorado and New Mexico.

On Friday, thousands attended events in Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Denver, Chicago, New York and other cities. They said a sizable role played by immigrants in the economy merits immigration reform.

“If we don’t have the conversation, the economy isn’t going to get any better,” said Sergio Inocenzio, a 48-year-old juice plant worker who marched in Yakima, Wash., and has lived in the United States his entire life. “We’re not here to take anything. We’re here to work.”

In Newark, N.J., about 225 marchers paused outside the federal immigration building during a rally. “Say Reform, Not Raids” read signs in the crowd.

Stella Okereke, a Nigerian immigrant, said the marches weren’t just about Hispanics. “It is for all of us, for Africans, for Americans for Haitians, for anybody who has felt a pinch of injustice, and that’s why we are here, to support that immigration reform be done now,” Okereke said.

The White House announced this week that it would refocus its resources on prosecuting employers who hire illegal immigrants. And a Senate Judiciary subcommittee took up immigration this week for the first time in the new Congress.


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