The response was utterly unexpected: a series of massive demonstrations in the spring of 2006 by immigrants—legal and illegal—and their supporters, demanding the right to remain in the country as citizens. In cities from New York to Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Dallas, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets. Nashville experienced the largest public demonstration in its history, a march of more than 10,000 mostly Hispanic immigrants. People living at the margins of American society suddenly found their voice. “All that we want is to have a shot at the American dream,” said one. Another, an Iraq War veteran who marched with his parents, who had come to the country illegally, said, “I’ve fought for freedom overseas. Now I’m fighting for freedom here.”

In April 2006, millions of people demonstrated for immigrant rights. This photograph shows part of the immense crowd in Chicago, bearing the flags of many nations.

At the same time, church groups used to sheltering and feeding the destitute denounced the proposed bill as akin to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 for making it a crime to help a suffering human being and vowed to resist it. On the other hand, many conservatives condemned the marches as “ominous” and their display of the flags of the marchers’ homelands as “repellant.” When the Senate passed a different immigrant bill, tightening patrols of the border but offering a route to citizenship for illegal aliens, the House refused to approve it. All Congress could agree on was a measure to build a 700-mile wall along part of the U.S.-Mexico border. In early 2007, the immigration issue was at a stalemate and its ultimate resolution impossible to predict.

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