Billed as the city’s largest ever pro-immigrant rally, tens of thousands of protesters are expected to blanket downtown streets Saturday in opposition to a federal bill calling for a 700-mile U.S.-Mexican border wall and the criminalization of illegal immigrants. The proposal was introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and is one of a raft of measures that will be considered by Congress in the coming weeks. While the bills have been cheered by some Americans, they have split the Republican Party on the thorny issue of immigration and stirred anger in immigrant communities. “This is going to be the mother lode,” said Jesse Diaz, a program coordinator for the March 25th Coalition, a group of clergy and activists organizing the massive protest. “This is a movement that we say will turn the tide of this oppressive legislation.” About 12 million illegal immigrants – or 5 percent of the country’s work force – live in the United States, with California home to an estimated 2.5 million, more than any other state. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE‘Mame,’ ‘Hello, Dolly!’ composer Jerry Herman dies at 88 And as Congress prepares for a heated battle on immigration and President George W. Bush calls for a “civil” debate, pro-immigrant activists are turning up the decibel level. For weeks, activists have used Spanish-language radio, television and word of mouth to draw protesters to the rally. “It’s incredible, the people’s response. Everywhere we go, they are talking about it, even at Disneyland,” said Luis Garibay, producer of “Piolin (SECOND I NEEDS ACCENT MARK) por la manaa,” a top-rated morning-drive radio show. For a week, the Spanish-language disc jockey Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo has been urging his half-million-plus Los Angeles-area listeners to peacefully attend the rally. And last week, he and another disc jockey aired a dual promotion of the show. “We have been getting e-mails, telephone calls, faxes – everything,” Garibay said. But those pushing for tougher immigration laws say protesters who oppose a law making illegal immigrants felons are missing the point, which is that strictly enforced rules will fix the nation’s broken immigration system. “People are demanding to be rewarded for breaking the law,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports the criminalizing of illegal immigrants. “We are not going to get a handle on this problem if we reward people who break the law.” In Los Angeles, where one-third of the population is foreign-born and the economy is dependent on immigrant labor, the rally has attracted a broad coalition of backing, from the region’s top politicians to clergy to labor leaders. “We want to make sure that the hard work that (immigrant) workers contribute to Los Angeles and the rest of this country is recognized,” said Maria Elena Durazo, president of the Los Angeles county Federation of Labor, who is backing the march. Rachel Uranga, (818) 713-3741 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!