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Millions expected to join walkout

Organizers predict unprecedented rallies to support immigrants

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Organizers are predicting an unprecedented turnout for Monday's rallies against a proposed crackdown on illegal immigration and a widespread boycott of jobs, schools and businesses meant to show the economic power of immigrants.

"It will be tens of millions from coast to coast, from Los Angeles to New York," Javier Rodriguez, a spokesman for the March 25 Coalition, told CNN. "You can expect L.A. to be at a standstill almost totally. You will not have truckers. You will not have taxi drivers, garment workers, hotel workers, restaurant workers -- half of the teacher force will not be going to school."

The demonstrations, dubbed "A Day Without Immigrants," follow previous rallies that drew crowds estimated in the hundreds of thousands in Los Angeles, California, and Dallas, Texas. Other cities, including Atlanta, Georgia; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Phoenix, Arizona, saw tens of thousands of people turn out for such protests.

But Monday's events will be unprecedented in their scope, said Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican-American Political Association.

"We're going to see something that's never occurred in the history of this United States -- a day in which immigrants withhold their labor, withhold their consuming power -- they don't go to school, they don't go shopping, they don't go selling," Lopez said.

About 7.2 million illegal immigrants hold jobs in the United States, making up 4.9 percent of the overall labor force, according to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center. Undocumented workers make up 24 percent of farmworkers and hold 14 percent of construction jobs, the study found.

Other estimates put the total number of illegal immigrants in the United States at more than 11 million.

The protests began in March in opposition to a Congressional bill that would make felons of illegal immigrants and wall off more than a third of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border. The bill passed the House of Representatives in December, but has stalled in the Senate.

Sen. Trent Lott warned Sunday that the planned demonstrations could undercut senators trying to find a middle ground.

"I do think that these big demonstrations are counterproductive, and they hurt with a guy like me, who is trying to look at this in a way that is responsible," the Mississippi Republican told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

Even some of those who supported the earlier protests have called for caution in Monday's rallies. Los Angeles' Cardinal Roger Mahony and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last week urged parents not to let their children leave school for the demonstrations. Some immigrant groups have warned workers not to take part if it would cost them their jobs.

But Christine Neumann Ortiz, who helped organize an earlier Milwaukee protest, said she has seen increased support for immigrants since the earlier demonstrations.

"Particularly, the business community and the African-American and Asian community have really, actually, stepped forward this time in a way that they didn't just a couple of months ago," she said.

Ortiz said the House bill would pave the way for "a permanent criminalized underclass" and that any guest-worker plan that did not provide an opportunity for U.S. citizenship "would be a step backward."

A divisive issue among GOP

The immigration debate has split Republicans as midterm elections near. President Bush, taking great pains to woo Latino voters to the GOP, has called for a guest-worker program and a way to legalize the status of people in the United States illegally.

"It's a very emotional issue," White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten told "Fox News Sunday."

"There are ways to solve the enormous illegal immigration problem that we have in this country. But I think only if we tone down the very emotional rhetoric on both sides of it and come to some consensus position in the middle," he added.

A bipartisan measure backed by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts would include the proposals Bush has advanced.

"What we're talking about is getting folks out of the shadows and on a path to legality," Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California told CNN. "And then getting them in line behind others that came before -- but not punishing them and putting them in jail, as the House bill would do."

Critics have denounced any legalization plan as "amnesty" and vowed to oppose it.

A compromise Senate bill backed by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida would make the legalization process tougher for illegal immigrants who have been in the country less than five years.

But the bill stalled when Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid objected to Majority Leader Bill Frist's decision to let Republican senators offer amendments to the measure.

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