Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered before the Capitol here on Wednesday under a hot sun to demand comprehensive immigration reform that opens a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Shouting “Llego la hora” (the time has come), immigrants from all over the United States, but mostly Latin Americans, demonstrated before the Capitol on a day organizers called “historic” in the fight for immigrants’ rights in this country.
“Our families can’t suffer any longer,” “No more deportations” and “I want to see my family: How much longer do I have to wait?” read some of the signs and banners carried by the protesters, who chanted in unison the slogan “Si se puede” (literally, “Yes, it can be done”).
Some people at the protest carried a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint.
“This demonstration is just one of the events that the immigrant community will hold in the coming weeks to demonstrate our power and to pressure Congress in favor of this reform,” Salvadoran Rev. Vidal Rivas told Efe.
“We haven’t come here to beg. We’re demanding respect for the immigrants who contribute to this country and so that the suffering the deportations cause may stop,” he added.
The demonstration in the nation’s capital was staged along with protests in some 18 other states and was participated in by civil rights organizations, unions, Democratic members of Congress and artists such as Puerto Rico’s Olga Tañon and bachata singer “Andy Andy.”
Illinois Democratic lawmaker Luis Gutierrez exhorted the crowd and emphasized the electoral weight Hispanics had had last November, ballot box clout that contributed to President Barack Obama’s reelection.
“That vote ... was made with much hope and confidence” that Obama would fulfill his 2008 campaign promise to enact immigration reform, Gutierrez said.
Democratic Congressman from Texas Joaquin Castro said that he and his colleagues would not permit the reform to be blocked by its detractors and “everyone will have the opportunity to review it and modify it. There will be a vote and I think we’ll achieve it.”
All the speakers repeated the message that immigrants are not a public burden but rather they pay taxes and contribute to U.S. economic growth.
In remarks to reporters, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, one of the first to speak to the crowd, said that the so-called “Group of 8” in the Senate, who behind the scenes are preparing an immigration reform plan, are intending to formally present their work next Monday or Tuesday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled the first hearing on immigration reform for April 17, although several Republican leaders, including Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, are demanding an unhurried and deliberate process of hearings.
When asked about that subject by Efe, Menendez said that Sessions “will have to accept” the hearing schedule put in place by the chairman of that committee, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy.
The Senate’s potential immigration reform package includes, among other elements, legalization and potential citizenship for undocumented immigrants who fulfill a series of strict requirements, strengthening border security and sanctions for companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers. The House will also prepare its own version.
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