Last week, on the first of May, Americans watched as hundreds of thousands of immigrants took to the streets across the nation to demand the United States Congress grant legal status to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in this country.

The predominantly Hispanic protesters were a mix of illegal aliens, legal residents, naturalized citizens, and their American supporters. In Chicago, an estimated 400,000 marched, while over 500,000 participated in Los Angeles.

Here in South Carolina, the protests were a bit less dramatic. In Charleston, the biggest impact was felt in three schools: Angel Oak Elementary, North Charleston Elementary, and Goodwin Elementary.

Businesses didn’t feel a serious impact, but the point was more a show of unity in the face of rampant rumors throughout the Palmetto State that mass roundups were on the way.

On April 19, U.S. Immigration and Customs officials arrested 41 illegal aliens in S.C. as part of a massive regional investigation of a wooden pallet manufacturer. The sweep yielded 1,186 arrests in 26 states at the IFCO Systems North America Inc. plants.

That the investigation was a coordinated effort lasting over a year prior to actual arrests has done little to assuage the Hispanic community — especially in the Midlands.

While The Eye agrees that something needs to be done for these people, who for the most part are only trying to improve their families’ lots in life, there are some troubling aspects to the national debate on this contentious issue.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 53 percent of survey respondents agree that illegal aliens should be deported while 40 percent say some sort of legal status should be granted. This same split is manifest in both the U.S. House and Senate.

Some of the tactics employed by the marchers, including singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Spanish and waving other countries’ flags (especially Mexico’s) during the marches, seem to be putting off some possible supporters — The Eye included.

One sign that caught The Eye’s attention read: “NO ILLEGALS … NO BURRITOS! (YOU BETTER WAKE UP AMERICA).”

Is that a threat?

It’s annoying that a group of people who aren’t American citizens are petitioning the U.S. government to grant them civil rights that aren’t extended to all Americans.

Somebody explain why the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has to be periodically renewed?

Signed by Lyndon Johnson, the VRA 1965 outlawed literacy tests as a requirement to qualify for voter registration. Such tests were rampant in the South as a means to disenfranchise African-Americans ever since Reconstruction.

The Act also provided for federal voter registration in communities where less that 50 percent of eligible minority voters were registered and provided for U.S. Department of Justice supervision and oversight of any voting law changes in districts whose populations were at least five percent African-American. Parts of the Act are up for renewal in 2007.

Why isn’t this permanent law?

What about gay Americans (who didn’t sneak into this country, but are sometimes forced to hide) who are legally barred from marrying whom they choose?

Until this group of citizens has full civil rights protections, those who came to America illegally can wait in line.

Over and over the course of last week, The Eye heard the same reasoning being bandied about that this issue was all about “The American Dream” and according dignity and integrity to all those who live and work in America.

Well, the problem of immigration will never really be solved until the leftover work of the Civil Rights Movement and the nascent racism in America is addressed.

Dignity and integrity are not exclusive properties.