Immigration Rally Pressures Congress to Act Fast

PHOTO: Rigoberto Ramos from Seaford, Del., originally from Guatemala, rallies for immigration reform in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013.Charles Dharapak/AP Photo
Rigoberto Ramos from Seaford, Del., originally from Guatemala, rallies for immigration reform in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013.

Immigrant activists are rallying in the nation's capital on Wednesday, and they are sending a specific message to Congress: quicken the pace of immigration reform.

Organizers estimate tens of thousands of people will gather in front of the Capitol in support of an immigration. That could present a stark visual to lawmakers considering whether to support a bill. But activists are also speaking directly to members of Congress and their staffs about their demands.

Over 1,100 members of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement attending this week's rally are meeting or holding demonstrations at 76 congressional offices, according to spokeswoman Donna de la Cruz. Those include meetings with supporters of the bill, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and protests at opponents' offices.

Activists who made the trip want members of Congress to speed up work on the bill.

A bipartisan group of senators crafting legislation known as the "Gang of Eight" missed a self-imposed March deadline to introduce a bill. And while members of the group say legislation could become public as early as this week, immigrants who would be affected by the bill are growing impatient.

"I think that they are making progress, but I do expect more of them. Let's speed it up a little bit more," said Evelyn Servin, a community organizer with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, who traveled 18 hours to be at the rally. "I want more from them and I want to make sure our families are included in that."

Servin and her group will meet with at least nine members of Congress or their staff on Wednesday and Thursday. Over 200 activists held a protest at the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), an opponent of legalizing undocumented immigrants, in which they delivered mini footballs with the message "Don't drop the ball – pass immigration reform now."

"We want to make sure that Latinos are still registering to vote and that they understand that we will continue to get this momentum as time goes on," she said.

Frustration over the pace of work has begun to bubble among activists, but lawmakers insist they are very close to putting forth a bill.

Members of the "Gang of Eight" say that they could put forth a bill within the next week.

Asked when the "Gang" would make its proposal public, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters on Wednesday, "either Friday or if it slips into next week, I think it will be early next week."

The Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing on immigration reform for April 17 and the committee's chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said that he is confident that a bill would be made public by then.

But an official "markup" of the bill, when changes could be made, isn't expected to happen until May 6. Republican lawmakers, including members of the "Gang," say that they want the process to be deliberate so that members will have time to read and digest what's in the bill.

"Senator Rubio has said from the outset that we will not rush this process, and that begins at the committee level," Alex Conant, a spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), told ABC News.

There were signs on Wednesday that the senators working on a bill are getting closer to putting forth their proposal.

Rubio and other GOP members of the Senate group had planned to brief their Republican colleagues on the proposal at an afternoon luncheon at the Capitol. And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) along with other Democratic negotiators were scheduled to speak with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) in order to build support for their plan.

"We want to get this done and get it right. People have waited a long time, so a day or two isn't going to matter," Schumer told reporters on the way to the CHC meeting.

But immigration briefing for Republicans did not happen at their meeting, some senators said that there was not enough time to talk about it since lawmakers also discussed new gun laws. But others speculated that it was because the Gang's was not prepared.

"I didn't get the impression there was any interest to get that done today [among the Gang of Eight]," Sen. Sessions said. "The impression I got was that they hoped to be able to do it next week."

Some congressional negotiators have themselves grown impatient about questions about the pace at which they are crafting the bill.

"Their frustration is totally justified," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) "We should have had it done in one day, or an hour ... because we're just a bunch of jerks."