WASHINGTON — They caught a red-eye flight from Las Vegas dressed in their jackets and ties. After landing, they headed straight to lobbying meetings and caught a hurried lunch at a McDonald’s. Weary in the evening, they boarded a plane back to Nevada.
For Christopher Preciado and Rafael Lopez, it was a whirlwind opportunity to make their voices heard, with tens of thousands of others who jammed the U.S. Capitol grounds Wednesday for a rally in favor of immigration reform.
The Rally for Citizenship was among demonstrations that organizers said were taking place in 18 states. The events were coordinated to push senators and House members negotiating immigration reform to include pathways to citizenship and provisions to unite families threatened with deportation.
“The bills are imminent,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who appeared onstage with other immigration advocates in Congress. “There’s been a lot of progress, but we need to keep the pressure on.”
Lopez, who consults immigrants in his job at Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional, is one of the DREAMers, who have advocated for citizenship for young people who attend college or join the military.
Three weeks ago, he received “deferred action” status offered by the Obama administration that will enable him to work legally for two years.
A younger sister was born in the United States and is a citizen. But Lopez said his parents will remain vulnerable until the law is changed.
“My feeling is for all the families like mine,” said Lopez, 24, who was brought into the United States from Mexico when he was a year old.
Preciado, 20, is an organizer for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which represents advocacy groups in the state. He is a U.S. citizen, with his parents, but they have been unable to unite with other relatives still living in Mexico.
“Like most Latino families in the U.S., we all have some sort of immigration story,” Preciado said. “My parents are the only ones who have successfully immigrated. Everyone else has been forced to stay back in Mexico, and the quality of life is so much better here.”
In meetings Wednesday, the Las Vegans called for immigration protections for same-sex couples.
“We want to ensure that whatever legislation comes out is not discriminatory and is fully inclusive,” Preciado said.
Horsford, a House freshman who coordinates immigration activities for members of the Congressional Black Caucus, said local activists have caught the attention of lawmakers, leading to consideration for matters such as immigration rights for same-sex couples .
“I’ve only been here going on 100 days, but from what I’ve been told this is the first time that communities who will benefit from reform have been able to participate in this process at a very grass-roots level,” Horsford said.
In Atlanta, more than 1,000 people marched around the Georgia Capitol at midday Wednesday, 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.
“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.
Senators writing a sweeping immigration bill hope to finish their work this week, opening what is 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 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 Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.