Tens of thousands of immigrants spilled into the streets in dozens of cities across the nation yesterday in peaceful protests in what organizers called a national day of action.

Protesters have been urging Congress, whose immigration reform efforts stalled last week, to help the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants settle here legally.

In a more muted version of the rallies, students gathered on the Diag to protest and educate passersby about immigration.

Standing on the steps of the Graduate Library, the students urged people to wear white in unity. About 10 students carried signs with messages like, “No human is illegal.”

Behind them stood stalks of white balloons.

“A clear path to citizenship is something we see as necessary,” RC senior Julia Malette said. “Leaving people undocumented encourages exploitation.”

Several students said they were strongly opposed to building a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out.

“Building walls is not going to keep people out,” Malette said.

She suggested the government look at the reasons why people want to emigrate from Mexico, which she said was the comparatively poor Mexican economy, and fix the problem at its root.

Malette criticized the bills in the House and Senate as inhumane.

“These are people contributing to our communities,” she said. “They deserve to have rights as much as the next person.”

The bulk of the students were from other campus groups like La Voz Latina, Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality and Migrant Immigrant Rights Awareness.

The students have formed a coalition centered on the immigration debate. The coalition, which does not yet have a name, organized yesterday’s protest.

One student standing near the steps of the Grad Library yesterday, James Simpson, who splits his classes between Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan, differed slightly from the group’s position.

Simpson said he supports immigration reformation, but said people need to follow the current laws for now. He said illegal immigrants need to be kept out of the United States.

The event’s organizers were quick to point out that Simpson is not affiliated with the group.

In the Midwest, an estimated 3,000 people demonstrated in Garden City, Kan., a farming community that counts fewer than 30,000 residents. In Champaign, Ill., hundreds of demonstrators marched along a busy street to the University of Illinois campus, carrying signs with slogans such as: “The pilgrims had no green cards.”

Yesterday’s demonstrations followed a weekend of rallies in 10 states that drew up to 500,000 people in Dallas, 50,000 in San Diego, and 20,000 in Salt Lake City. Dozens of rallies and student walkouts, many organized by Spanish-language radio DJ’s, have been held in cities from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York over the past two weeks.

– Karl Stampfl contributed to this report.

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