Immigration reform rally takes over National Mall

March 22, 2010 4:31:39 AM PDT
Tens of thousands gathered on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Sunday for a rally focused on immigration reform.Some of those gathered are from the Chicago area. They say they fear reform efforts have been put on the back burner.

While in the shadow of Sunday's health care reform vote, tens of thousands of protesters from around the country marched in Washington to push for a long-awaited immigration overhaul, as their fellow advocates in the Chicago area demanded the president make good on his promise of change.

"One thing we want to see [is] President Obama make a commitment to stop all raids and deportations," said Carlos Arango of United Front From Immigrants.

Chicago demonstrators say they hope the March for America will again put immigration reform, which failed in 2006 and 2007, atop a national agenda so far dominated by the economy and the War on Terror.

"What we are demanding, and the marchers in Washington are demanding, is that we have a fair, humane immigration reform policy in this country," community activist Carlos Perez said.

Last week, a bipartisan framework for immigration reform emerged. The bill crafts citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal and undocumented immigrants by reinforcing border controls, creating a process to admit temporary workers, and producing tamper-proof Social Security cards.

Some say it is a good first step.

"We are not criminals," said Luis Pelayo, of the Hispanic Council.

But critics of the plan, like Rosanna Pulido, say enforcement of immigration laws should be the only reform.

"This is not a time we need people legalized. It's a time we need immigration laws enforced, and that would free up 8 million jobs for law-abiding American citizens," said Pulido, Illinois Minuteman project director.

There is still the warning by Republicans that an immigration bill would fail if Democrats adopt health care legislation without their support.

"Lost you job? Blame immigrants. Costly healthcare? It's those immigrants. But you know what? I say the blame game is over," U.S. Congressman Luis Guiterrez said.

Even if Sunday's rally persuades some lawmakers, with mid-term elections in November, it is still unclear if Congress will act on any immigration reform.

Organizers in Chicago say they plan discussions meant to educate the public and develop support for their cause beginning next month.