Country Braces for Immigrant Protests

Twelve percent of the U.S. population -- 33 million people -- were born in another country.

Today, millions of those immigrants are expected to protest. Organizers say it could bring more than 153 cities in 39 states across the country to a halt.

There was a time when this country welcomed immigrants -- more than 20 million of them passed through Ellis Island. Today, organizers are hoping dramatic action by millions of immigrants across the country will force a change in the way this country handles immigration.

There are rallies planned, but the biggest protests may be harder to see: a boycott. In some cities, organizers say, that means your dry cleaner may be closed today, your car wash may not be open, and your favorite restaurant may be shut down.

Today's boycott has been driven by dozens of different groups and spread by word of mouth. It's unclear whether immigrants will be able to harness the energy from today's events and force Congress or the president to make immigration changes.

The idea behind the controversial boycott is to make America notice how important immigrants are to the fabric of the nation.

"They're workers," said Juan Jose Gutierrez of Latino Movement USA. "They create wealth, they pay taxes, and they deserve recognition for their contributions to the American economy."

President Bush says the boycott is not helpful to the immigrants' cause.

"I'm not a supporter of boycotts," he said. "I think it's very important when they do express themselves they continue to do so in a peaceful way and a respectful way."

Bringing the Country to a Halt?

From Seattle restaurants to Vegas hotels, businesses of every sort are bracing for a financial hit. California may take the biggest hit. It has the world's fifth-largest economy, and a quarter of its population is foreign-born.

"We might not paralyze the city, but we are definitely gonna make a big, huge impact," said one of the 30,000 truckers who vowed to park their rigs today. "Thirty thousand loads that are not gonna hit the market; 30,000 loads that won't be available for the public."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is calling for tolerance, urging protesters to wave American flags and sing the national anthem in English. Villaraigosa is the grandson of Mexican immigrants and does not support the boycott, but understands the motivation: a law that would turn 11 million undocumented workers into felons.

"It put a fear in these people, in their families," Villaraigosa said. "The young people wondered, 'What's gonna happen with my parents?' Because many of these young people are citizens."

Jessica Rodruiguez's parents brought her to America as a baby. She said her family had given up on the idea of citizenship. Today, she is skipping school and her father will miss work. She said she was not afraid of being punished for boycotting.

"America is opportunities," she said. "If I lose one job, I go to another."

Some immigrant leaders do not support the boycott. In New York, one group is asking immigrants to form a human chain.

"They want to come out of the shadows and become full, participating members of our society, and we want lawmakers to reflect that in the legislation," said Chung-Wah Hong of the New York Immigrant Coalition.

In cities like Chicago and Houston, massive rallies are planned. It's unclear how many immigrants will actually ditch work. Many fear it could cost them their jobs, and rumors are flying that immigration authorities could use the occasion to round up undocumented workers.

Some industries are allowing workers time off. International marketer Cargill will close seven beef and pork plants, giving 15,000 workers the day off. Throughout North Carolina, poultry processing facilities shut down today. Goya foods will suspend deliveries to grocery stores nationwide and won't fire anyone for missing work.

"Being a company of immigrants, we decided it was the right thing to do," said Robert Unanue, an executive at Goya.