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Thousands of immigration marchers rally across U.S.

Story Highlights

Los Angeles police fire rubber bullets to disperse crowd
• Crowd estimated at 150,000 in Chicago
• Homeland security chief says parents choose to break law
• Focus of protests is deportations that split families
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CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Demonstrators descended on city centers across the country Tuesday to press Congress to give the estimated 12 million people in the United States illegally a path to citizenship.

In Chicago, a police spokeswoman estimated the crowd at 150,000 late in the afternoon.

Organizers had predicted hundreds of thousands of demonstrators would participate in a 2-mile march to Union Park, where an estimated 400,000 to 700,000 people protested last year. (Gallery: Sea of marchers)

In California's Los Angeles County, scattered scuffles broke out early Tuesday evening between demonstrators and police in MacArthur Park after officers were pelted with rocks and bottles, police said.

Officers responded using non-lethal force, including the "shooting of non-lethal projectiles [rubber bullets or bean bags] and the use of batons," Police Chief Bill Bratton said.

According to Bratton, at least three members of the media were injured, along with 15 police officers and an unknown number of demonstrators. One person was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Bratton said the incident was under investigation and promised to deal with any officers that responded to the situation inappropriately.

Police did not immediately issue crowd estimates in Los Angeles, where thousands of people converged on City Hall, one of two demonstration sites. Los Angeles County is home to an estimated 1 million illegal immigrants.

Focus on raids

Organizers of this year's events focused on raids by immigration officials that have separated some of the nation's illegal immigrants from their children, who are U.S. citizens if born in the United States. (Watch one man's plea for a chance Video)

One of them could be Elvira Arellano -- a Mexican in the United States illegally with her 8-year-old son Saul, a U.S. citizen.

Last year, Arellano was cleaning airplanes for $7 an hour and no benefits when federal agents nabbed her. She then became one of an estimated 600,000 people who have failed to show up for deportation.

Instead, for the past eight months, she and her son have been living in an apartment above a Methodist Church on Chicago's West Side.

Saul has no interest in moving to Mexico, which he does not know. "I have my friends here, my school," he told CNN.

Asked whether he will go to Mexico if his mother is sent back, he did not respond. (Watch immigrants at border found inside carpet roll, pinata Video)

The Rev. Walter Coleman says that for the past three weeks, he has refused to eat solid food in support of Arellano's bid to stay in the country.

"Are we just going to treat them like mules?" he said of undocumented immigrants.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was unmoved.

"We do have to remember, it's the parents' choice to break the law," he told CNN.

"At the end of the day, we cannot compromise on enforcing the law simply because somebody has given birth to a child in the United States."

Children who are born in the United States are not deported, he said, "although we recognize that, in almost all cases, the child will accompany the parent back."

But he added that he, too, believes that Congress, which is slated to consider the matter beginning May 14, must pass legislation.

"We are going to need to find a way that is reasonable and fair and not an amnesty to deal with the undocumented workers who are here," Chertoff said. (Watch how prospective citizens face a new test Video)

Asked whether he is optimistic that will happen, he said, "I think we've got a reasonably good chance if everybody is willing to work in the spirit of compromise."

Immigration reform is one of the few issues on which President Bush and Democratic leaders in Congress generally see eye-to-eye -- to the consternation of many conservatives in Bush's own political base. (Read about the search for an immigration compromise)

Thousands in Phoenix

Tuesday in Phoenix, Arizona, 15,000 to 20,000 marchers showed up to demonstrate.

Organizers in Chicago and Los Angeles urged marchers to carry U.S. flags instead of or in addition to the flags of their home countries.

In New York's Washington Square Park, where the theme was "our American family tree," demonstrators attended a service at a nearby church before the scheduled start of a rally. (Watch CNN's Soledad O'Brien report amid marchers at a Chicago rally in support of illegal immigrants Video)

Among those attending were Lupe, his wife, Emma, and some of their eight children. Lupe, who said he has been in the United States illegally for 15 years, said the tightened borders are a disincentive for him to return to Mexico, where his mother is sick.

If he were to leave, he said, it would be more difficult for him to return.

CNN's Allan Chernoff, Thelma Gutierrez, Soledad O'Brien and Ted Rowlands contributed to this report.


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A crowd gathers for an immigration rally in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday.

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