Hundreds rally in Detroit in support of immigrant rights

Protesters carry a banner and signs during an immigration march and protest in Detroit on Thursday. Immigration activists and civil rights leaders, with rallies and marches nationwide, hoped to revive an immigration reform debate grown surprisingly stagnant in this presidential election year.

DETROIT — Carrying a sign with "They can't deport us all" handwritten on one side, 15-year-old Eduardo Casillas said he took Thursday off school to join hundreds rallying in his neighborhood in support of strengthened immigrant rights.

The sophomore at Western High School was born in the U.S., but has family from Mexico and said comprehensive immigration reform needs to be an important issue in this year's presidential race.

"Most people just came here for better jobs, better lives, to help their families," Casillas said.The rally and march through the streets of southwest Detroit was part of a nationwide series of May Day protests organized by activists hoping to re-ignite the immigration debate and set an agenda for the next president. But turnout has fallen since the first nationwide rallies were held in 2006.

"The fight to defend our people is not just having a rally and going home and doing nothing," Baldemar Velasquez, the 61-year-old president of the Toledo, Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, told the crowd at a Detroit park. "It's going home and fighting in the front to stop the raids, to stop the local police from working with the immigration authorities."

The neighborhood where the rally took place has a large Mexican American and Hispanic population. About half of residents claim a Hispanic heritage, according to the Southwest Detroit Business Association.

The throng of people was four city blocks in length as it made its way through streets that were closed to traffic. Detroit police said Thursday they didn't plan to release an official crowd estimate.

Janet Warren, 60, of Berkley, said she was at the rally for a second year and carried a red, white and blue sign that read "United We Stand" on one side and "Legalize hard work" on the other. She said a lack of progress on immigration reform over the past year made it necessary to attend.

"This is not a way for people to live, in fear," she said. "These people are here. We are a nation of immigrants. We are one people."

Those taking part in the march carried signs that featured messages in both English and Spanish. Among them: "Stop raids and deportations that separate families" and "Legalization for all immigrants now."

Spectators, including families with young children waving U.S. and Mexican flags, lined the route of the march, and some joined in as the marchers passed. Some wore Mexican flags draped over their shoulders.

"It is going to help my family and friends," said marcher Hugo Orozzo, a 17-year-old Western High senior.

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