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Thousands rally for immigrant rights in downtown Los Angeles

Thousands of activists marched through the streets of downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to oppose immigration enforcement raids and demand that local officials take concrete steps to thwart the “deportation machine” under President Trump.

David Abud, one of the organizers of the march, said the coalition of activists is demanding that Los Angeles city and county officials refuse to invest any resources in immigration enforcement.

Activists want to ensure that a new fund to provide legal assistance to immigrants won’t exclude those with criminal convictions. They are also asking the city and the county to invest in programs that help immigrants, including day labor centers.

“We want the city and the county to not just declare Los Angeles a sanctuary city — which they have not — but to take these strong, concrete policies,” said Abud, who works with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. 

Shortly before noon, thousands of demonstrators who were gathered at Pershing Square spilled into the intersection of 5th and Hill streets. Latin music played on loudspeakers as the numbers grew from the hundreds to the thousands. Vendors sold shirts reading "Not My President" or food.

Rain that threatened the march had stopped earlier.

Large American, Mexican and LGBT flags dotted the scene. Many marchers held home-drawn signs, some with likenesses of the Statue of Liberty and President Trump. Other signs carried phrases like “No human is illegal” and “Cut your own (expletive) grass!”

Carmen Bermúdez's sign was honest: "I usually sleep in on Saturdays."

It was the Mexican immigrant's first protest. She said she was lucky that no one in her family is undocumented, but that she felt she needed to support the entire immigrant community.

Vanessa Velasquez, 17, and her younger sister flipped bacon-wrapped hot dogs on carts at the northeast corner of Pershing Square. She said they work with their father every Saturday and had recently worked at four separate protests.

She said she likes working the protests because it allows her to lend her support. Her parents, both in the country illegally, immigrated from Guatemala 18 years ago.

Velasquez said her family has been scared since Trump’s election. She said her mother works downtown and recently changed her driving route to avoid the immigration agents rumored to be stopping cars and checking for legal documents.

She worries her parents will be deported.

If they are “and we stay here, we’re going to be by ourselves,” she said of her and her sister. “It’s not fair how the president is treating people.”

In a declaration posted on Facebook, organizers of the march wrote that local officials had shown “a lack of urgency” in protecting immigrants and argued that L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti had buckled to “empty threats” from the Trump administration to defund sanctuary cities.

Garcetti has called Los Angeles “a city of sanctuary,” but has argued in the past that there is no clear definition of a “sanctuary city.” 

Garcetti’s spokesman George Kivork said in a statement Saturday that the mayor will keep fighting for all city residents, regardless of where they come from. 

“L.A. stands for freedom, justice, inclusion, compassion and equality for all people,” Kivork said. “That’s why Mayor Garcetti will never let anyone pressure our police into acting as a deportation force, worked to create the L.A. Justice Fund, will sign legislation to decriminalize street vending, and has committed his administration to bringing new resources to immigrants while helping them get on a path to citizenship.”

The march began just after noon Saturday at Pershing Square and ended with a rally at Los Angeles City Hall that included a lineup of more than 30 speakers, many of them immigrants without legal status. Many groups supported the march, including Union Del Barrio, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and the National Lawyers Guild.

Moises Escalante marched with the support of a wooden cane. The 63-year-old former community organizer, who immigrated 43 years ago from El Salvador, wore a shirt that read, “Who would Jesus deport?” 

“We immigrants are the ones that built this nation,” he said. “That’s something we have to remind people about.” 

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesEmily

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UPDATES:

4:20 p.m.: This article has been updated with new comments from activists.

12:30 p.m.: This article was updated with more details from demonstrators.

11:55 a.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from activists.

This story was first posted at 10:45 a.m.

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