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Pro-Immigrant March Planned for Costa Mesa, Calif.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: It was Mayor Allan Mansoor's idea to rid a city of illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

ALLAN MANSOOR: What we're proposing in Costa Mesa is going to focus on major offenders, whether it's a car thief or a burglar or something more serious like rape, robbery, or a gang-related crime, drug-related crime. I believe it's a very reasonable expectation that when someone commits a crime, if they're here illegally, they should be deported.

DEL BARCO: The policy has divided the city, where a third of its 100,000 residents are Latino. Anti-immigrant groups like the Minutemen applaud the mayor's move, but the police chief opposes it and many small merchants say their businesses have declined since Costa Mesa officials decided to start questioning illegal immigrants.

JORGE RODRIGUEZ: This is just the tip of the iceberg where these people are going to try to move local law enforcement to become deputized agents of the INS, and begin harassing and intimidating workers throughout the country.

DEL BARCO: Immigrants' rights activist Jorge Rodriguez, who helped organize last Saturday's March in L.A., says protestors will be picketing in Costa Mesa tomorrow. He says as the Senate and Congress hash out new immigration policies, the Costa Mesa rally is just a sneak preview of targets to come.

RODRIGUEZ: And what we see with all these mobilizations is a new phase, and a heightened phase in the civil rights movement of Latinos in this country.

DEL BARCO: Spanish language radio DJs helped mobilize the crowd, which featured an unprecedented number of undocumented immigrants demonstrating in the streets. Some say the pressure convinced the Senate to back down from harsher language in its proposed legislation.

JAIME REGALADO: If immigrants in Los Angeles are emboldened enough, whether they're documented or undocumented, to take to the streets, that has a ripple effect.

DEL BARCO: Professor Jaime Regalado is an expert in Latino issues at Cal State University in Los Angeles. He says it may be too early to call what's happening now a genuine movement of immigrant workers, but it may be the start of one.

REGALADO: We seeing a new age someplace, we're not entirely sure where it's going to lead. And so all of a sudden there are heavy expectations and a lot of pressure on the organizers to produce the next step.

DEL BARCO: Despite warnings to stay in school, California high school students say they'll continue to stage walkouts to defend their undocumented parents and relatives. And immigrant rights organizers like Lativo Lopez are planning a series of demonstrations in April, leading up to a May Day boycott.

LATIVO LOPEZ: The goal is really to defeat the legislation, okay? Everything, all these marches, those are tactics to defeat that Sensenbrenner legislation, Sensenbrenner-type measures, and any senate version.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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