SAN FRANCISCO — Demonstrators marched through San Francisco Wednesday in one of several rallies across California trying to shape the national immigration debate and press Congress to grant a path toward citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
The crowd estimated to be about 100 people at the start of the march quickly grew to an estimated several hundred people as additional demonstrators joined those walking down the city's Market Street on the way to the Federal Building.
Members of the expanding crowd chanted in English and Spanish and held signs and banners reading "Reunite Families Now," ''Undocumented...Unafraid," ''We Will No Longer Remain in the Shadows" and "Don't Deport Another Dream."
"We are here because of our ancestors, our future generations and those who are detained," said the Rev. Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights in Northern California.
Dozens of police officers monitored the crowd, which was peaceful during the march.
As the procession snaked its way toward the Federal Building before the evening rush hour commute, many marchers held red and orange paper flowers they said represented the scores of people deported daily for immigration violations.
"They're taking a stand for comprehensive immigration reform," San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos said. "This is very important."
The march in San Francisco followed a Sacramento rally where about 50 people gathered around noon outside the federal courthouse downtown.
One of the attendees, Rosa Torres, said she came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico in 1998 after her mother, who lives in Sacramento, had a heart attack.
Torres said she is the only one in her family who was born outside the U.S. and she fears that one day she could be separated from her 9-year-old daughter.
"I came over here to be with my mother and then as soon as I got here I started working," said Torres, 39, who does maintenance work to support her daughter as well as six nieces and nephews. "I don't come to live by the government, like welfare. I never asked any help for that."
Elsewhere in the state, several hundred people demonstrated peacefully outside the Los Angeles office of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Activists also gathered for a prayer breakfast at a church in San Jose and rallied outside Feinstein's San Diego office.
The San Diego City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to support broad immigration measures that includes paths to citizenship. Advocacy groups repeatedly failed in previous years to garner such support from the Council.
Associated Press writer Laura Olson in Sacramento contributed to this report.