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Immigration marchers return to LA park

LOS ANGELES — About 2,000 immigration reform demonstrators marched peacefully Thursday to the park where protesters and journalists clashed with police during a rally earlier this month.

Organizers said the purpose of the demonstration was to strengthen the immigrant community’s trust that they could exercise their constitutional rights. It came hours after the White House and top lawmakers announced a deal that would grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants if approved.

“We are hardworking people. We just want to be here legally,” said Maria Navas, a sewing factory worker from El Salvador who has been in Los Angeles for 14 years.

Marchers gathered in front of a church for a town hall-style meeting before a procession to MacArthur Park west of downtown. Police spokeswoman Mary Grady said the department kept officers on overtime in case they were needed.

Four investigations are ongoing into the May 1 melee, and two commanders have been removed. At that event, riot police struck demonstrators and journalists with batons and fired more than 240 rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Officers say they responded after being pelted by rocks and bottles. No one was seriously hurt, but at least 60 citizen complaints involving as many as 100 officers have been filed.

People waved from windows in tall office buildings as the marchers filed past Thursday. When people arrived at MacArthur Park, a police officer used a bullhorn to direct marchers in Spanish, saying “Thank you for your cooperation.”

The peaceful crowd banged on drums and waved mostly U.S. flags, as well as those from Mexico, El Salvador and other Latin American countries. Police estimated the crowd at about 2,000.

“If there are a lot of people who come today, maybe the lawmakers in Washington will take notice. The immigrants are here; they deserve a chance,” said participant Alberto Reyes.

This time, police patrolled on bicycles or stood by. Officers planned to pass out fliers with a message printed in English, Spanish and Korean.

“The Los Angeles Police Department is committed to working in cooperation with the event organizers to protect your right to free speech,” the flier said. “We wish to allow you to engage in marches, demonstrations, protests and rallies in the city of Los Angeles to freely express your opinions.”

Marchers differed on the legislative immigration plan, which would require illegal immigrants to return home to apply for residency, pay a $5,000 fine and potentially wait eight to 13 years for permanent residency. Debate on the proposal is set to begin Monday in the Senate.

A factory worker, Ricardo Cristobal, said that he thought the $5,000 fine was too high and that he was participating in his third march “so the government can hear us and legalize us.”

Also among the marchers was actor Martin Sheen, who said he was supporting immigrant rights because his parents came to the United States as immigrants from Spain and Ireland.

“Today I march under my real name, which is Ramon Estevez,” Sheen said.

He said he supported the measures in Congress. “It’s a good start. It’s not going to satisfy everybody, and it’s not going to solve the problem, but it’s as good as one can do under the circumstances,” Sheen said.

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