From across the country, by bus, plane and train, tens of thousands of people calling for comprehensive immigration reform covered the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on April 10 in one of more than a dozen similar events taking place around the United States.
Cries of: “Si, se puede” (Spanish for “Yes, we can”) and “What do we want? Citizenship! When do we want it? Now!” rose from the crowd in Washington. The rally was organized as part of a nationwide campaign to push Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform law that addresses a range of problems with the current system.
And it is not just undocumented immigrants themselves who support reform. More than six of out of 10 Americans agree that immigrants currently living in the country illegally should be allowed to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Brookings Institution. Majorities of Democrats (71 percent), independents (64 percent) and Republicans (53 percent) support an earned path to citizenship, as do majorities of all religious groups, including Hispanic Catholics (74 percent) and white Catholics (62 percent).
The widespread support for a path to citizenship “is that rarest of rarities in our polarized political environment—a policy that enjoys majority support across partisan and religious lines,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive officer of the Public Religion Research Institute.
A Senate bill being crafted by the bipartisan, so-called “gang of eight” was said by some members of the panel to be nearly ready to unveil. It was expected to incorporate goals like a path to legalization and citizenship for the majority of the estimated 11 million people in the United States who lack legal status; increases in the number of visas available for workers; changes in the way family reunification visas are granted; and a set of requirements for ensuring that the Mexican border is “secure.”
President Obama has been pushing the legislation but has been giving the Senate panel time to pull together a bill that might draw votes from both parties. Results of the 2012 election that gave Mr. Obama more than 70 percent of the votes of Latinos prodded Republican leaders to rethink their previous opposition to immigration reform that includes legalization or a path to citizenship.
Sentiments expressed at the rally gave a sense of just how complex the demands are for what legislation should accomplish. Stepped-up deportation under the Obama administration was cited by many people on stage and in the crowd as something that is making their lives more difficult.
Martin, a butcher originally from from Mexico who traveled to Washington with members of his Catholic parish in Grand Rapids, Mich., said that because of his lack of legal status he has not been able to return to see his now-elderly parents in the 15 years since he left Guadalajara.
His three children are U.S. citizens, and every day “we worry about deportation.”
“Our life is here,” Martin said. “We only want an opportunity to lead our lives. We are all children of God.”