Rallies in DC, Across Country Urge Senators to Act on Immigration Overhaul

Thousands hit D.C. today to demand citizenship.

April 10, 2013, 1:35 PM

April 10, 2013 -- Thousands of immigrants and activists flocked to the U.S. Capitol Wednesday afternoon to urge Congress to overhaul the immigration system for more 11 million people living in the United States illegally.

The so-called Gang of Eight senators working on immigration were expected to introduce a piece of legislation by the end of the week after months of negotiating. But they announced on Wednesday that reform would have to be pushed back a few days to make room for the gun control debate.

Despite lawmakers' focus on guns, the rally, called Citizenship for 11 Million, drew thousands of activists to the district to include their voices in lawmakers' last-minute discussions as an immigration bill is being finalized.

Giselle Stern Hernandez, born in New York and married to an immigrant from Mexico, held a sign that read, "I am a Deported Man's Wife."

"When [my husband's] deportation happened in 2001, people were protesting, but not in the national dialogue the way it is now, so it is deeply emotional for me," Hernandez told ABC News at the rally. "I'm not putting any hopes on seeing the reform that I would like, but at least these people are engaged in the dialogue."

She added, "We can't just stay in our corners."

Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and originally from Liberia, held a sign that echoed a refrain heard across the grounds in both English and Spanish: "The time is now."

"It is time, actually it is past time, for immigration reform for the over 11 million people in this country coming out of the shadows," Woods told ABC News. "We, all of us, have found family members, community members, church members facing deportation in inhumane conditions and we're here to say, Enough is enough."

Washington was not the only city rallying for the cause.

Cities across the country are pressing Congress for comprehensive immigration overhaul in community gatherings this week. Staten Island, N.Y., New Haven, Conn., Charlottesville, Va., Boston and others have hosted rallies in an attempt to voice their respective demands.

Jessica Ramos, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, said there were about 800 attendees at their rallies on Tuesday.

"About 400 people showed up to the rally in New Haven, 250 in Danbury and 150 in Bridgeport," she said.

When asked about the demographic of attendees, Ramos said, "We thought we would see mostly Latinos, but that wasn't necessarily the case."

"There was a lot of South Asian participation, particularly in Bridgeport."

The organization is also hosting rallies in New York and Miami. Ramos said the demographic of immigrants depended on the state. She said that there was a lot of African and Eastern European participation, too.

N.Y. Assemblyman Matthew Titone of Staten Island's 61st District was a little less surprised about supporter turnout at the Tuesday rally at Wagner University.

The Democrat said the turnout was diverse, with people of all ages from all walks of life. Many college students made an appearance, Titone says, and many of them were in Washington to march on the West Lawn of the Capitol.

Titone called Tuesday's gathering a "pre-rally" for the event in D.C.

Each state rallying in support of comprehensive immigration overhaul has a specific purpose, tailored to its needs.

The main focus of the rally in Staten Island was passage of the New York State Dream Act, which qualifies undocumented youth to be eligible for a six-year-long conditional path to citizenship, one that requires completion of a college degree or two years of military service.

"I think it's important to really start educating the public what the DREAM Act is, what it does and what it doesn't do," Titone said.

He added that it is important to put on the rallies because it "puts a real face on the DREAMers, the young adults who were brought here as children."

And many of the DREAMers were to attend a two-part gathering in Santa Cruz County, Calif., Wednesday. Two vigils were to be held in the Golden State Wednesday afternoon, according to Glen Schaller, political coordinator for the Monetary Bay Central Labor Council.

"We chose to do vigils partly because we've been leading an effort to encourage local city council members to pass resolutions for immigration reform and we have now passed the halfway point," Schaller said. "The vigils are a way for us to celebrate the jurisdiction that has already passed."

When asked whether the gatherings intentionally coincide with the march on Washington, Schaller said, "Absolutely."

"We would like to honor the folks who are going gather to D.C.," he said.

"We want to add our voices to theirs to encourage the House and Senate to pass this legislation."