UPDATE 1:23 p.m.: Thousands of immigrants and activists rallied nationwide Wednesday in a coordinated set of protests aimed at pressing Congress to approve immigration reforms that would grant 11 million immigrants living here illegally a path toward citizenship.
Organizers said demonstrations were taking place in at least 18 states and in Washington, where a large, festive crowd gathered on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday afternoon.
Several events will be held in Southern California. In the biggest event, planned for Los Angeles, demonstrators plan a rally in front of offices of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in Westwood starting at 11 a.m. (See a copy of the letter the groups submitted to the senator embedded below.)
Hundreds attended the march down Sepulveda Boulevard. The rally circled the intersection at Santa Monica Boulevard, filling all crosswalks for several minutes and frustrating some drivers. Marchers had drums, horns and megaphones, but remained peaceful and worked with the LAPD to stay on sidewalks. The Asian Pacific American Legal Center and other organizations delivered a letter to Senator Feinstein calling for her leadership in immigration reform.
"We won't win immigration reform just coming to Washington. We need to walk the streets all over the country," said Ben Monterroso, national director of civic participation of the Service Employees International Union, which represents nurses and lower-wage employees including janitors and child care workers.
In Atlanta, more than 1,000 people marched around the Georgia Capitol Wednesday midday, calling for comprehensive immigration reform and an end to deportation.
In San Francisco, demonstrators planned to build an altar at the federal building with 1,000 paper flowers, symbolizing the number of people deported daily for immigration violations. A gathering in San Diego was being billed as marking "Undocumented Coming Out Day."
Senators writing a sweeping immigration bill have said they hope to finish their work this week, opening what's sure to be a raucous public debate over measures to secure the border, allow tens of thousands of foreign workers into the country and grant eventual citizenship to the millions living illegally in the United States.
A person familiar with proposed bipartisan immigration legislation being written in the Senate said Wednesday the bill would require greatly expanded surveillance of the U.S. border with Mexico and greatly increased detention of border crossers in high risk areas. The person provided the information on condition of anonymity because the deliberations were private.
Groups opposed to illegal immigration say they aren't worried that lawmakers or voters will be swayed by emotional messages, and argue that extending legal rights to immigrants living illegally in the U.S. will create financial problems for cash-starved governments and spur more illegal immigration.
"There ought to be a rally for the 20 million Americans who can't find a full-time job," NumbersUSA President Roy Beck, whose group advocates reductions in immigration levels, said in a statement Wednesday.
Reform activists said the size of the pro-immigrant movement would be on display at rallies around the country, including in the nation's capital, where National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Benjamin Jealous will deliver the keynote address.
The activists already claim victories nationwide, including a successful lobbying effort against a plan in North Carolina to provide driver's licenses to immigrants with the words: "NO LAWFUL STATUS."
The immigrant activism movement gained national attention in 2007 when President George W. Bush and a bipartisan group of lawmakers unsuccessfully tried comprehensive immigration reform. Some high school and college students who were brought to the U.S. as young children began living openly and holding rallies.
The movement gained new supporters in 2010, when Congress debated but did not pass the DREAM Act — legislation that would have granted legal status to young immigrants living illegally in the country.
President Barack Obama announced in June his deferred-deportation program allowing young immigrants to apply for work visas. During his State of Union address in February, Obama called on Congress to quickly pass immigration reform.
PREVIOUSLY: Marches, rallies, prayer vigils and voter registration drives are planned across California Wednesday as activists hope to shape the national immigration debate.
The events will coincide with a demonstration in Washington on the west lawn of the United States Capitol, calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Tens of thousands of people are expected at the rally.
Several events are planned in Southern California. In the biggest event, planned for Los Angeles, demonstrators plan a rally in front of offices of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in Westwood starting at 11 a.m.
Organizers also plan a drive to get people to register to vote in San Bernardino.
The agricultural town of Hollister in Northern California will see a pro-immigrant candlelight vigil.
And a gathering in San Diego is being billed as marking "Undocumented Coming Out Day."
Events are also planned for San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno and Bakersfield.
The demonstrations come as a tentative deal has been reached between agriculture workers and growers, smoothing the way for a landmark immigration bill to be released within a week.
Feinstein, who's taken the lead on negotiating a resolution to the agriculture issue, didn't provide details and said growers had yet to sign off on the agreement. The United Farm Workers union has been at odds with the agriculture industry over worker wages and how many visas should be offered in a new program to bring agriculture workers to the U.S.
But Feinstein said she's hoping for resolution soon.
"There's a tentative agreement on a number of things, and we're waiting to see if it can get wrapped up," Feinstein said in a brief interview at the Capitol.
"I'm very hopeful. The train is leaving the station. We need a bill."
The development comes as a bipartisan group of senators hurries to finish legislation aimed at securing the border and putting 11 million immigrants here illegally on a path to citizenship, while also allowing tens of thousands of high- and low-skilled foreign workers into the U.S. on new visa programs. The agriculture dispute was the most prominent of a handful of unresolved issues. There's also still some debate over plans to boost visas for high-tech workers.