PHOENIX (AP) -- Hundreds of Arizonans are expected to rally for immigrant rights during a march through downtown Phoenix on Wednesday night marking International Workers' Day.
Representatives from Arizona CIR Coalition are expected to speak to a crowd of 500 beginning at 5:30 p.m.; then the group will march along Jefferson Street beginning at 6 p.m.
The marchers are expected to take Jefferson, east to 3rd Ave., north to Adams, east to 2nd Street.
1st street will be closed from Adams to Monroe, according to organizers. Phoenix police say they will have a presence to assist.
The event hosted by the Arizona Comprehensive Immigration Reform Coalition is the latest mass gathering in Phoenix aimed at rallying support for a proposed immigration bill that would create a path toward citizenship for 11 million immigrants illegally living in the United States. Organizers have directed supporters to lobby lawmakers through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook and through phone calls and emails.
"We are talking literally about millions of people's lives that will be changed as a result of the immigration reform bill that's being debated as we speak," said organizer James Garcia.
The legislation backed by President Barack Obama and Republicans and Democrats in Congress would be the nation's first immigration overhaul in nearly three decades.
The event is scheduled to start at the Arizona State Capitol and end in downtown Phoenix, where many immigrants work illegally in the service and tourism industries. Proponents say immigrants are a crucial part of the nation's labor force.
Arizona approved a first-of-its-kind anti-illegal immigration law in 2010. Since then, local pro-immigrant groups have worked together to highlight the stories of workers and families targeted by the strict law that requires police to question suspects about their immigration status.
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are divided over the national immigration overhaul. Opponents say it will encourage future waves of illegal immigration and benefit immigrants illegally in the country over those who have waited years in their home nations for visas.
"If we cannot stem the tide of illegal immigration, we are destined to repeat the cycle of amnesty again and again," read an opinion article Wednesday in the Arizona Republic signed by Arizona Republican U.S. Reps. David Schweikert, Matt Salmon and Paul Gosar.
Activists say they and other lawmakers must be persuaded to vote for the bill by any means necessary.
"This is a very far from done deal," Garcia said. "So there's a lot of work to be done. What we are hoping to have happen today is not only is this a reminder that people are actively engaged on the issue, but it's also connecting the dots that immigrant workers have families and the goal of many grassroots activists is to ensure that families stay together."
Garcia said he and other activists have amassed a contact list representing 10,000 Arizonans eager to march on short notice when needed.
"It's important that we turn out people sometimes at the drop of the hat," he said. "Our Facebook site is really active. We send out messages letting them know about rallies, definitely anything we can do electronically to let people know immediately as possible, we do that."
Cristina Silva can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/cristymsilva .
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