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Somber Note to an Upbeat Protest Rally

Organizers dedicate L.A. immigrant rights march to a boy whose family blames his suicide on fear allegedly instilled by a school official.

April 16, 2006|Jean Merl and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

Several thousand people--many of them students--marched through downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to protest federal legislation that would crack down on illegal immigration.

Organizers of the march dedicated the event to Anthony Soltero, the Ontario teenager whose mother says he killed himself after a school vice principal allegedly told him that he would be sent to jail for missing class to take part in an immigration rights march.

Officials of the Ontario-Montclair School District said they have found "no corroborating evidence" that the 14-year-old boy was threatened with jail.

Members of his family carried placards with his photo as they helped lead the march about a dozen blocks along Broadway and 1st Street to a rally on City Hall's south lawn. "Continue the Struggle in Anthony's Name," the signs read.

That lent a somber note to a generally upbeat event. Police said they made no arrests and had no reports of problems.

Organizers, many of them high school or college students, urged protesters to express their objections to legislation proposed by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) that would make illegal residency in the United States a felony and punish those who employ or help illegal immigrants.

Marcher Bryan Nupia, 15, a student at Franklin High School in Los Angeles, said he joined the protest in hopes it would dissuade Congress from cracking down on illegal immigration. "I hope it will change some things," he said. "Immigrants made this country."

Several speakers at the post-parade rally urged support for a planned May 1 boycott of stores, workplaces and schools to show immigrant power and solidarity. Organizers also passed out leaflets advertising the boycott.

State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), while not telling students to cut classes that day, said she and state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) would introduce a resolution this week acknowledging boycotts as a strong American tradition and recognizing the contributions of immigrants.

"Today we march, May 1 we boycott, and tomorrow we register to vote," Romero told the crowd.

Elsewhere in the city Saturday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa again urged students to obey truancy laws and stay in school.

At an aviation careers event at the Van Nuys Airport, the mayor reiterated his stand that students should do their protesting outside class time.

"I want our kids in school," Villaraigosa declared -- twice -- to a crowd of several hundred adults and young people.

Downtown, American flags dominated the scene, though a number of marchers carried Mexican flags, and there were smatterings of those of Guatemala and El Salvador as well. Marchers carried signs in Spanish and English, and many at the City Hall rally addressed the crowd in both languages.

Vendors set up shop on the sidewalks flanking Broadway, hawking food and flags and shouting encouragement.

"It's been a peaceful and well-disciplined crowd," said Los Angeles Police Capt. Andy Smith, noting that there were "more families and children than the students we expected."

Police estimated the crowd at 3,000, while organizers said it was somewhat bigger, pegging attendance at 5,000 or more.

Among those in the crowd was Omar Martinez, 13, whose parents drove him from Riverside to attend.

"We are here so everyone can have an opportunity for a better life, a chance to go to a good school, a good university," Omar said. "We are standing up for our rights. We were here on March 25, [for the march and rally that brought an estimated 500,000 people to downtown Los Angeles] and we'll come back again."

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Times staff writer Bob Pool contributed to this report.

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