Thousands of pro-immigrant protesters thronged Santa Ana on Monday, surging around the downtown Civic Center while a handful of counterprotesters stood on a corner shouting defiance.
Only two arrests were reported. Officials said both were for failure to disperse after a flurry of rock and bottle throwing aimed at police.
Santa Ana Police Sgt. Lorenzo Carrillo estimated there were 10,000 to 15,000 protesters, making it one of the largest demonstrations in Orange County in decades. By early evening, police were calling in backups to cope with a crowd that seemed to sprawl in random directions and operate with little leadership.
"I felt it was necessary for our voices to be heard in this fight," said Ana Garcia, a 49-year-old Santa Ana woman who cleans a house in Long Beach and said she was in the country illegally. "We need to show what an important element we are in the economy of this great country."
The day was generally peaceful, although tense at times. At one point, with the two camps squared off at the corner of Civic Center Drive and Ross Street, as many as 18 sheriff's deputies on horseback appeared in the street to keep them separated.
"We Latinos are workers," said marcher Tino Lopez, 21, a native of Guanajuato, Mexico, who has been in the United States illegally for two years and fixes cars in a Santa Ana body shop. "We too are paying taxes, and we just want some respect and human rights."
Block after block of businesses -- pizza parlors, burger joints, food markets and a janitorial-supply business -- were closed throughout the city.
Across Orange County, large employers including Disneyland and UC Irvine reported no disruption of operations. The Orange County Transportation Authority, which says 60% of its 220,000 weekday bus riders are Latino, reported a slight decrease in ridership. Authority spokesman Ted Nguyen said 11 bus routes were redirected and two were canceled because of the crowds.
Officials at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim said they had no work force issues for Monday's Stanley Cup playoff game between the Mighty Ducks and Calgary Flames.
"On a normal game night we will have 20 people in our food and beverage service call in, and tonight we had 11," said Tim Ryan, the Pond's chief executive. "Honestly, I thought it was going to be a bigger story than it turned out to be."
The Santa Ana demonstration started at 11 a.m. with about 200 people and swelled in the following hours. As protesters chanted and marched peacefully, many carrying U.S. flags, they were greeted by about 40 people from an opposition group. "Go back to Mexico!" came the cries from one side, while the other yelled, "¡Si, se puede! "Yes, we can!"
The counterprotesters included Barbara Coe, a co-author of Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot measure that sought to curb public benefits to illegal immigrants. "It took two weeks to evacuate 2 million people from New Orleans," Coe said. "We can deport 20 million illegal immigrants from the United States in as many months. Don't tell me it can't happen. When they leave, the 15 million Americans who are now unemployed will be able to get their jobs back."
Pastor Wiley S. Drake, from the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, helped organize the counterprotest. Drake, an advocate for the homeless, said he believed immigrants must respect the legal process.
"We had a minister from our own church who was here illegally from Guatemala," Drake said. "We made him go back. I sponsored him, and although it took time, he eventually returned and got his permanent green card. To do it any other way is a slap in the face, an insult."
Martin Campos, 41, and his wife, Dolores, 40, drove from the Riverside County community of Wildomar to participate in Monday's march. Martin Campos, a Mexican native and a factory supervisor for an Anaheim materials company, asked permission from his employer for the day off.
Campos, who has a green card, carried a large U.S. flag and a small Mexican flag. To shouts of "Go home!" and "Go back to Mexico!," he reacted nonchalantly.
"I think they have the right to express their opinions," he said in Spanish. "But it's impossible and impractical to remove 12 million people from the United States without seriously hurting lots of companies and institutions that depend on that labor."
Schools across Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties saw extra absences Monday, but nothing like the massive walkouts in March.
Attendance in the 43,000-student Riverside Unified School District was down several hundred students. In the Santa Ana Unified School District, where 92% of students are Latino, district officials locked down schools to prevent walkouts. The district also sent home letters and called students' homes to urge parents to keep their children in school.
Their efforts were successful -- absenteeism in the 62,000-student district was about 5%, typical for a Monday.
Organizers such as the League of United Latin American Citizens urged students to stay in school, and scheduled their rallies and marches between 2 and 7 p.m. "They were considerate and put out the message to have children go to school and then participate," said Susan Brandt, school district spokesman. "We appreciate that very much."
Anaheim Union High School District officials, who also sent home letters and called parents, reported twice as many absences as normal in the 33,000-student district. "Some parents have called in and said they're keeping their kids home for safety reasons," said district spokeswoman Pat Karlak.
Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Chris Foster, Christopher Goffard, David Haldane and Seema Mehta.