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Park rally renews call for rights

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Times Staff Writer

Returning to the streets for the first time since a May Day rally ended with allegations of police brutality, hundreds of immigrant rights activists marched Thursday to MacArthur Park to again call for a path to citizenship for the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants.

Waving American flags and signs reading “No to Deportation,” about 2,000 marchers gathered about 6 p.m. for a brief rally in front of Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Boulevard before heading to the park several blocks away.

Among those in attendance were Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Region, who called it a day of “peace and solidarity with all those who marched on May 1.”

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As he addressed the crowd, Villaraigosa also made reference to the May 1 melee at MacArthur Park, where police, pelted with bottles and rocks by agitators, were videotaped using batons and riot guns on the crowd, including reporters and photographers.

“Here in Los Angeles we all have the right to march peacefully,” Villaraigosa said in Spanish to the cheering crowd. “We’re here because we love this great country and we want to share in the American dream.”

The mayor assured the demonstrators that the police actions were being investigated. Police Chief William J. Bratton, also present at the rally, last week reassigned the two top commanders at the park that day.

“Only with justice can we get to peace,” Villaraigosa said, his remarks again met with applause and cheers.

The rally came on the same day that a bipartisan U.S. Senate committee announced a proposal that would give illegal immigrants probationary legal status and a chance to become permanent legal residents or citizens. Immigrants would have to pay as much as $5,000 in fines and wait up to 13 years for a chance at citizenship.

Nunez called the proposal “good intentions but the wrong path” for immigrants, most of whom, he said, could not afford such steep fees.

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About 6 p.m., the orderly crowd -- some chanting “Si se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”) -- began walking north along Wilshire Boulevard, moving at a leisurely pace as police helicopters and news choppers whirled overhead.

Hundreds of police officers on foot, bicycles and motorcycles patrolled the boulevard along the roughly 10 blocks leading to MacArthur Park near downtown.

As she marched along Wilshire, Sofia Medina carried a picture of the late Mexican priest Toribio Romo, who died in the 1920s and is known as the patron saint of immigrants. Medina said she and her husband, who live in San Fernando, have been in the country illegally for 13 years.

She said the couple, who have a son and a daughter who were born in the U.S., hope to eventually gain legal status.

“The country has helped a lot of immigrants, and immigrants have helped the country,” she said. “The economy would not be so strong without them.”

As the marchers entered the park near Vermont Avenue about 7:15 p.m., they joined another 2,000 people already there. A sound system on a stage blared popular songs about the struggles of illegal immigrants, leading to wild cheers and dancing.

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Off in a corner of the park were Maria Elena Jimenez -- carrying a sign that read “We R a Country of Immigrants” -- and her sister Lorena, who has been in the U.S. for 20 years and is the only member of her family who is undocumented.

Lorena, who lives in Huntington Park and works as a maid, said she would like to obtain legal status so she could occasionally travel to her hometown of Cuernavaca, Mexico, to visit other family members she hasn’t seen in years. She said many immigrants like her simply want to live and work in the U.S. in peace.

“We’re the ones who deserve a chance,” she said.

sam.quinones@latimes.com

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