Thousands of protesters marched and rallied through Chicago's streets Wednesday in what has become an annual cry for easing the nation's immigration laws.
Wednesday's May Day rally carries a special sense of urgency this year, two weeks after a bipartisan group of senators, including Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, introduced a bill that would bring many of the estimated 11 million living in the U.S. illegally out of the shadows.
The bill would strengthen border security and require employers to use an electronic verification system to check an individual's eligibility to work in the U.S.
"The bill that came out that the Senate introduced is a strong start but how it finishes is up to us," said Lawrence Benito, the executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "We've got a few months ahead and we know that both sides will be talking about the issue and Congress will be debating it. We don't want to take anything for granted and we want our voices to be heard."
About 1,000 protesters gathered for Occupy Chicago’s rally in Union Park at 2 p.m. to prepare signs and chant, "Si se puede," or "It can be done."
The Chicago Federation of Labor planned a separate rally t Haymarket Monument, at Randolph and Des Plaines, at 2:30 pm. Both groups joined together at 3 p.m. to march for immigration reform, ending at Federal Plaza, where Durbin addressed the crowd.
Protesters marched down the sidewalks waving black and red flags, covering their faces with masks and black bandannas. Those who tried to venture onto the street were escorted back onto the sidewalk by police, but at least one protester was arrested for refusing to walk on the sidewalk, according to the Chicago Sun Times,
About 2,000 activists marched in Chicago last year -- far fewer than the half a million people who converged on the city in 2006 to demand immigration reform. About 1,000 people gathered by 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Activists also plan rallies in Bloomington and Peoria.