updated 3/14/2007 6:34:21 PM ET 2007-03-14T22:34:21

Frustrated by Congress' lack of progress on immigration reform, pro-immigrant activists want to tap into growing anti-war sentiment this spring by combining the two issues at dozens of rallies nationwide.

Many organizers are concerned that debate over the Iraq war has overshadowed immigration reform, and some immigrants are increasingly opposed to the conflict as more foreign-born troops are killed or wounded.

Both issues are personal for protest organizer Juan Jose Gutierrez. His 22-year-old nephew was killed last year in Iraq after emigrating from Mexico, and becoming a U.S. citizen while serving with the Marines.

"The war is something that affects immigrants dramatically right now," said Gutierrez, president of the Los Angeles-based group Latino Movement USA. "It's important people understand that the anti-war and immigration movements are connected."

Immigration reform has been stalled since last summer, when Congress split over whether to first strengthen border security and immigration laws or extend a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants.

Anti-war rallies on Saturday
On Saturday, Latino Movement USA and other immigrant groups will hold an anti-war rally in Los Angeles being organized nationwide by the ANSWER Coalition, which stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.

Another rally is planned in San Bernardino to demand amnesty for illegal immigrants and a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The decision to link the issues underscores worries among many pro-immigrant groups that they failed to capitalize on the momentum created by last year's massive protests that drew hundreds of thousands of demonstrators into the streets across the country.

At those events, many anti-war activists were given a cold reception by immigration groups, who saw them as interlopers seeking attention for themselves.

In Chicago, a group called the March 10 Coalition, which includes several dozen civil rights and immigration groups, voted recently to protest the war at rallies, reversing a decision made last year to avoid Iraq.

At a rally last weekend, demonstrators carried pro-immigrant and anti-war signs. "Everybody took it normally that war and immigration issue are together," spokesman Jorge Mujica said.

Not all groups on board
But not all pro-immigrant groups want to see the issues joined.

Jorge Mario Cabrera, associate director of Carecen, a Hispanic advocacy group in Los Angeles, said it is better to focus limited resources on one issue. He said being associated with anti-war efforts could backfire.

"The risk is that immigration reform is still very political" without adding the war issue, Cabrera said.

Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said her organization is staying neutral for the sake of members with loved ones in Iraq.

"Many organizers who have children in the war are uncomfortable," Salas said. "We want to keep the focus on immigration reform for the sake of solidarity."

About 35,000 foreign-born troops serve in the U.S. military and about 8,000 enlist each year, according to a 2005 study by the CNA Corp., a research firm in Alexandria, Virginia. After whites, Hispanic soldiers have suffered the most casualties of any ethnic group in the Iraq war, with 332 since the beginning of the war in 2003 through Feb. 3, according to Department of Defense data.

"It's poor, working-class Latinos and other working-class youth who are most affected by the war," said Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican-American Political Association. "You bet the war should be an issue."

Immigration activists also cited the November national legislative elections, which gave control of Congress to Democrats, many of whom campaigned against the war.

The war debate has so consumed Congress that some immigration activists fear lawmakers may not get to immigration reform this year.

The 2008 presidential race presents another distraction, said Armando Navarro, coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights, an umbrella organization for Hispanic groups in Southern California.

"So as a community, we can't continue to have a one-dimensional political vision," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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