Thousands of people gathered in San Francisco today for a march and rally to demand rights for immigrants.

The May Day March started at 24th and Mission streets and ended in Civic Center Plaza, where about 2,000 people gathered to listen to speakers and musical performances.

Similar actions were taking place across the state and nation today, including in Oakland and San Jose.

Diana Macasa, an organizer of the event, said many speakers at the Civic Center rally criticized a new law in Arizona that requires local law enforcement to check the legal status of those they suspect may be illegal immigrants.

The law was signed April 23 by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. After a wave of protest, lawmakers in Arizona have since banned race from being used to identify illegal immigrants.

Several speakers at today’s rally nevertheless called for a boycott of Arizona and declared their “solidarity with the immigrant communities of Arizona,” Macasa said.

Rally participants also called on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Ramon Cardona, an immigrant from El Salvador, said he hoped “the rallies in cities throughout the nation are giving a strong message to Washington about passing comprehensive immigration reform” as soon as possible.

“We can’t wait anymore, or we’re going to have more laws like Arizona’s,” Cardona said.

At least 20 counter-protesters, many from the Golden Gate Minutemen, a group of conservatives calling for increased border security, also gathered at Civic Center Plaza.

Macasa said she did not hear of any incidents occurring between the two groups.

Rachele Huennekens, a spokeswoman with Service Employees International Union United Service Workers West, said she and dozens of other people from the union attended the San Francisco march and rally.

Huennekens said “the reason we’re here today is because we think we need a solution to the broken immigration system that’s hurting workers, and driving down standards for working people.”

She said the Arizona law was an example of “the same failed policies that have tried to solve our immigration issues.”

Huennekens said “immigrant workers are America, they built America and they make it work.”

Immigrant workers “are just doing the best they can to make a living, and want to be under the rule of law and in the system like everyone else,” Huennekens said.

Photo: Steve Rhodes

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