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Thu, Oct. 17

Low turnout for protest at state Capitol in Phoenix

PHOENIX (AP) - An immigrant-rights rally at the state Capitol on Monday attracted far fewer demonstrators than organizers had hoped and didn't even near previous demonstrations that drew tens of thousands of people.

Police estimated that about 900 immigrant-rights supporters were at the rally at any one time during the day. They did not have an estimate on how many they think came and left throughout the four-hour event.

Organizers, on the other hand, estimated that 3,000 people demonstrated at any one time and that altogether 5,000 showed up.

All the estimates are a far cry from the 10,000 people organizers had hoped to attract.

"We're pretty disappointed," said Alfredo Gutierrez, an immigrant-rights activist who helped organize the event. "It was sad. We planned on 10,000."

Others who helped organize the event downplayed the numbers, saying they never planned to have a turnout similar to an immigrant-rights march that attracted 100,000 demonstrators in Phoenix on April 10.

"We already demonstrated our capacity on April 10," said Roberto Reveles, president of Somos America, or We Are America, the group that organized Monday's rally. "The goal here today was to remind Congress and the public that Congress should be hanging its head in shame - to remind Congress on Labor Day of its failure to do its job."

As it considers massive changes in immigration policy, Congress is divided over whether to focus solely on border security or whether to offer immigrants the chance to become U.S. citizens.

Immigrant supporters chanted "Si se puede! (It can be done)" and "We are America," and carried signs with slogans such as "American At Heart, Immigrant By Necessity."

One girl, 13-year-old Ana Gonzales of Phoenix, held a giant American flag with her 7-year-old sister and in Spanish chanted, "Hispanics united will not be defeated!"

"My parents are illegal and we want to stay here," said Gonzales, who was born in Arizona and spoke through tears. "We deserve to stay here. We want to work and we want to be in school. I know people want to throw us out, but we're going to stay, and if they send us away, we're going to come back over and over again."

The rally also drew 100 advocates for limiting immigration. Although some counter-protesters shouted "Go back home" and walked through a crowd of immigrant supporters, no confrontations occurred.

Michelle Dallacroce, founder and president of Mothers Against Illegal Aliens, said the government has sold out its people in not adequately confronting illegal immigration.

"These people are violating our laws, and they are taking away what belongs to Americans," Dallacroce said. "They come down here on our Labor Day and march on our Capitol. It makes me want to vomit."

Twenty-four-year-old Brian Hammond of Mesa carried a sign that read, "Refusal to defend borders suicide."

"I want to show my support of securing our border and following the rule of law," Hammond said. "I am trying to send a message to the politicians. We've got to defend this nation."

Joel Moreno-Lopez, a 43-year-old Mexican illegal immigrant who waved an American flag at the rally, said the counter-protesters should have more sympathy.

"I respect their opinions but they should understand - they're from the United States, and we also want an opportunity to live in the United States," Moreno-Lopez said.

He said he wasn't afraid of demonstrating even though he is in the country illegally.

"I'm not the only one," he said. "I'm one of thousands."

In putting together Phoenix's huge immigrant rights march in April, organizers had aimed to show support for a proposal to create a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants. The march was the largest demonstration in state history.

A march two weeks earlier had drawn 20,000 people on Phoenix's streets. That demonstration was propelled by opposition to a proposal in Congress that would make it a felony to be an illegal immigrant in the United States.

An economic boycott in Arizona was held on May 1 to show the role that immigrants play in the economy.

While an estimated 4,000 people turned out at rallies on the day of the boycott, it was unclear how many businesses were affected. Several restaurants, hair salons and discount stores were closed for the day.

Despite a lower-than-expected turnout Monday, immigrant-rights activists were optimistic about their impact.

"We may be able to determine a few elections, and that's our goal," Gutierrez said.

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