Los Angeles Thousands of people across the country protested Friday against legislation cracking down on illegal immigrants, with demonstrators in cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix and Atlanta staging school walkouts, marches and work stoppages.
Congress is considering bills that would make it a felony to be in the United States illegally, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border. The proposals have angered many Hispanics.
The Los Angeles demonstration led to fights between black and Hispanic students at one high school, but the protests were largely peaceful, authorities said.
Chantal Mason, a sophomore at George Washington Preparatory High, said black students started a scuffle with Hispanic students as they left classes to take part in a protest.
"It was horrible, horrible," Mason said. "It's ridiculous that a bunch of black students would jump on Latinos like that, knowing they're trying to get their freedom."
One black and one Hispanic student interceded to calm their classmates and help restore order, said Los Angeles district spokeswoman Monica Carazo.
In Phoenix, police said 20,000 demonstrators marched to the office of Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, co-sponsor of a bill that would give illegal immigrants up to five years to leave the country. The turnout clogged major thoroughfares in what officials said was one of the largest protests in the city's history. People also protested outside Kyl's Tucson office.
Kyl pointed out that most were speaking out against the House bill making it a felony to be an illegal immigrant, not his bill, which would also step up border enforcement and create a temporary guest-worker program.
"They (protesters) should be pleased that the Senate is probably going to address this in a much more comprehensive way," Kyl told the Tucson Citizen newspaper during a meeting with its editorial board.
In Los Angeles, more than 2,700 students from at least eight high schools and junior high schools walked out, district officials said. Some carried Mexican flags as they walked down the streets, police cruisers behind them.
Some of the students visited other high schools, trying to encourage additional students to join their protest, but some schools were locked down to keep students from leaving, Carazo said.
In Georgia, activists said tens of thousands of workers did not show up at their jobs Friday after calls for a work stoppage to protest a bill passed by the Georgia House on Thursday.
That bill, which has yet to gain Senate approval, would deny state services to adults living in the U.S. illegally and impose a 5 percent surcharge on wire transfers from illegal immigrants.
Supporters say the Georgia measure is vital to homeland security and frees up limited state services for people legally entitled to them. Opponents say it unfairly targets workers meeting the demands of some of the state's largest industries.