Demonstrators demonstrate against Georgia’s immigration law

Thousands of protesters stormed the Georgia Capitol on Saturday to protest the state’s new immigration law, which they say creates an unwelcome environment for people of color and people in search of a better life.

Men, women and children of all ages gathered in downtown Atlanta for the march and rally, cheering the speakers while shading each other with umbrellas and placards. Police and Capitol organizers put the crowd at between 8,000 and 14,000. They filled the blocks around the Capitol, holding up signs denouncing House Bill 87 and reading “Immigration Reform Now!”

Friends Jessica Bamaca and Melany Cordero held a placard that read, “How would you feel if your family were to break up?”

Bamaca was born in the United States, but her mother and sister are from Guatemala. She said she fears they will be deported.

“I would be here alone,” said Bamaca, 13. “I feel like[the governor]doesn’t know the pain that’s affecting families. If he were in our place, how would he react?”

Adelina Nicholls, executive director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, said the crowd was sending a message.

“They’re ready to fight,” Nicholls said. “We need immigration reform and no HB87 will stop us. We have earned the right to be here.”

Azadeh Shahshahani of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia called the rally inspirational and said she hoped lawmakers would see the law’s potential to harm the state.

“I think there will be an impact,” she said. “Unfortunately, as far as people of color are concerned about moving to Georgia, the damage has already been done.”

Several diverse groups stood alongside the mostly Hispanic crowd, including representatives of the civil rights movement. Rev. Timothy McDonald, an activist who has supported immigration protesters, was among the speakers who expressed solidarity.

“You are my brothers and my sisters,” McDonald told the crowd. “A few years ago they told people like me we couldn’t vote. We did what you are doing today. We will send a message to those in power… that there is no government unless the people unite that can stop them. Don’t get turned around.”

MiLi Lai, a student at Emory who is Chinese, also attended the rally because the immigration law applies not only to Latinos but “all non-Americans.”

“We’re the same community,” Lai said. “We have to fight for our rights.”

Bellanira Avoytes attended the rally with her husband and three children. Although she is a legal resident and her children were born in Georgia, she does not see herself as separate from undocumented Latinos.

“I have a non-resident family,” she said. “I’m dating the Latinos. i love georgia I have lived here for 18 years. I want to buy a house here.”

Saturday’s rally follows a “day without immigrants” organized on Friday, when some parts of the law went into effect. It was organized by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. The organization called on businesses to close and community members not to work or shop to protest the law.

On Monday, a judge temporarily blocked key parts of the law pending a legal challenge. A provision that has been blocked authorizes police to check the immigration status of suspects without proper identification. It also empowers them to detain illegal immigrants. Another punishes people who knowingly and willingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants while committing another crime.

Portions of similar measures in Arizona, Utah and Indiana have also been blocked by the courts.

Among the provisions that went into effect Friday is one making it a crime to use false information or documentation when applying for a job. Another provision provides for the establishment of an Immigration Review Board to investigate complaints about government officials’ failure to comply with state laws related to illegal immigration.