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"A Country of Immigrants"

To the sound of drums and the sight of American flags, more than 25,000 people marched on Dallas City Hall in the latest episode in Texas' endless immigration saga.

Demonstrators march through the streets of downtown Dallas in 2010 to protest the passage of Arizona's controversial new immigration law.

To the sound of drums and the sight of American flags, more than 25,000 people — a microcosm of a national movement — marched on Dallas City Hall on Saturday in the latest episode in the never-ending Texas immigration saga.

The crowd, smaller than expected, congregated at Dallas’ Cathedral Shrine of the Virgen de Guadalupe and succeeded in carrying on a 1960s-style peaceful demonstration. But the protesters drew counterprotesters, and the day produced some severe juxtapositions: For instance, a security guard whose bicep bore the tattooed likeness of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary, marching by a counterprotester’s sign warning that alligators “have been relocated to the Rio Grande.”

More than 50 additional Dallas County sheriff’s deputies, 300 tactical Dallas Police Department officers and 50 volunteer security guards were on hand to quell any violence, though by all accounts the rally came and went without major incidents.

The marchers pleaded, as did several thousand of their ilk across the country at similar rallies, for federal immigration reform — on the heels the passage of an Arizona’ law that many have called a “police state” bill, in the midst of a turf war between Mexican narcotraficantes, and against a backdrop of a reeling economy in which state services could face the budget ax.

Standing in front of the walls of the cathedral grounds was David Gutierrez, a third-generation Texan, a Vietnam War veteran and a current Army National Guardsman who sought help in unfurling a giant U.S. flag to ensure it did not touch the asphalt. Gutierrez, 58, urged participation as a path to legalization. “I think we all have to pay a price [to become U.S. citizens]. Number one, you need to get involved — participate in this democracy,” he said. “Follow the rules and be good, and everything will be all right. I went into the military so I could be could be part of America, so I can say I am an American.”

That doesn’t mean, he added, that he supports Arizona-style legislation, which allows local police officers to demand proof of citizenship on suspicion of illegal status. “I am respectful of this country, but I don’t want anybody thinking that just because I have this color, that they are going to stop me and ask me if I have legal papers or not,” said Gutierrez, who was born in Michigan and reared in the South Texas town of Pharr.

Others came to vent their anger on the marchers. Ed Conyers, originally from El Paso but now living in Arlington, came to demand that “illegals” be granted “no amnesty.”

“I had to get away from El Paso because they took my job away from me,” said Conyers, clad in a John Lennon T-shirt. “I am a construction contractor, and [immigrants] say they are over here doing the hard jobs that Americans don’t want. That’s B.S., man. I work just as hard as they do. … They are getting food stamps, free housing, free school — what’s that about? I am an American citizen, an Anglo-American citizen who just gets crapped on in my country. But I pay for these people.”

Just across the street, Vincent Gallagher urged tolerance. “We are a country of immigrants," he said. "The Hispanic communities have been here longer than the Anglos, and I am Anglo, being an Irishman. I think it’s terrible that we are drawing a line in the sand and saying, 'You can’t come across.'” Gallagher, who became a U.S. citizen in 2001, wore a shirt. He said the movement wasn’t just about Hispanics but that their plight called attention to the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

“It should be more of a migration policy than an immigration policy,” he said. “Migration encourages people to come here, make some money, go home and make their own country better. If they want to stay, that’s great.”

Still, others came in solidarity against the racial profiling that they believe will result from the Arizona law. “I grew up in the 1950s in Louisiana, and I knew how important it was to have unity. I believe in this cause,” said Roslyn Goodall, an African-American. “This is about racial profiling. I know that this happened to people who looked like me some time ago … and that’s why I am out here: to make sure that nothing like this happens in Texas.”

Behind Goodall was a sign that insisted immigrants wanted nothing more than jobs. Atop hand-painted images of two hands — one holding a hammer, another a drill — it read: “Give us a hand, we gave you two.” It eventually made its way past Brian Carter, a Dallas man wearing a Texas Rangers baseball jersey and holding a sign advocating for amnesty for “baby killers” and “insider traders.”

It’s just a joke,” he explained. But breaking the law — any law — should prompt punishment, not amnesty, he said. “Take care of what’s going on in our country, and let’s not give lawbreakers freedom to break the law, openly and without any punishment.”

Instead, he said, the government should close its borders, crack down on businesses that hire undocumented workers and move on.

A few feet away from Carter was “Juan,” 28, who admitted to being in Texas illegally from Zacatecas, Mexico. He came to Texas to make a better living. “Juan” pushed a popsicle cart. He said being a paletero in Dallas afforded him the luxury of supporting his family by sending a portion of his earnings home. “I am here to support everyone who needs immigration reform. It’s not fair that the only thing we come here to do is work [and] they treat us like criminals,” he said. If he lived in Arizona, he said, “as soon as I walked out on the sidewalk, they’d arrest me. They’d deport me.”

The crowd grew louder, as if on cue, as it marched passed the Sheraton Hotel’s service entrance, where a flock of low-wage earners in uniform at the high-end hotel urged on the marchers.

The march culminated with political leaders and marchers congregating at City Hall, whose windows reflected a sea of U.S. flags, waving to Ray Charles' rendition of “America, the Beautiful.” State and local leaders from Dallas, including Bishop Kevin Farrell, state Sen. Royce West, and state Reps. Rafael Anchia and Roberto Alonzo urged solidarity in Texas' path to reform.

Alonzo lauded the marchers' efforts and insisted that Texans need not worry that an Arizona-style bill would move through the state Legislature. “This is an issue that is not on the table,” he said.

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