More than 5,000 people gathered Sunday to rally against proposed federal immigration legislation and to ask for greater understanding of the immigration issue from all Americans.
People in the mostly Hispanic crowd displayed American flags and carried signs that read "We are workers, not felons" and "Somos todos immigrantes - We are all immigrants."
A coalition called United for the Safety and Dignity of Immigrants led the rally against legislation that would penalize those who help illegal immigrants, increase the punishment for entering the United States illegally and build more fences along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"We are proud of being in this country," said coalition member Sandra Sanchez. "We ask that all Americans try to be united as humans. Don't look for differences."
Sanchez said immigrants who come to the U.S. from Latin America and other areas of the world are seeking jobs and economic opportunity. Immigrants are consumers who contribute to the economy and pay taxes, she said.
Greg Correa, a construction worker in the Des Moines area, said he came to the rally to thank Americans for the opportunities he has been given.
"We don't have a choice but to come here," he said. "There's not enough jobs in Mexico. I came here to help support my family."
Correa said he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border eight years ago. He said he sends some of the money he earns home to his parents and daughter about every two weeks.
"I just want to say to Americans, it's not fair," he said. "Americans can come and go to Mexico, no problem. Why can't Mexican people do the same? You go there to vacation, we come here to work."
Dick Shepardson, of Des Moines, said he has helped legal immigrants and undocumented workers prepare their taxes for five years. He said Americans who favor deporting the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. aren't being realistic.
"How much is that going to cost?" he said. "We're a nation of immigrants."
At the request of rally organizers, most of those attending wore white shirts to signify their peaceful intentions. Many carried American flags, while some held small Mexican flags.
Des Moines police directed traffic on one street away from the downtown plaza where the rally took place. Otherwise traffic flow in the area was normal and no counter-demonstrators were present.