Tens of thousands rally for immigration reform in D.C.
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post (March 21, 2010)
Tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters from across the United States packed the National Mall Sunday in a last-ditch effort to spur Congress and the White House to overhaul the nation's immigration system and offer the nation's 10.8 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship this year.
Under a glorious blue sky, the festive crowd beat drums and waved American flags and placards reading "Change takes Courage," and "Obama Don't Forget Your Promise!"
City officials do not give official crowd estimates, so it is difficult to determine whether turnout reached the more than 200,000 estimated by organizers. However, the demonstration stretched from 7th street to 12th street in a dense carpet of humanity--the movement's largest show of strength since 2006, when a series of mass rallies in favor of the legalization plan erupted in cities across the country.
Most of the participants, as with prior rallies, appear to be Latino, and their are regular chants, in Spanish, of slogans such as "Si se puede!"--Yes, we can.
But there was a concerted effort this year to broaden the movement's reach.
Ben Jealous, executive director of the NAACP was among the first to speak, underscoring recent widespread efforts by Latino leaders to reach out to a constituency often concerned that Latino immigrants take jobs from low-income black workers.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a longtime supporter of legalization plans, was joined by evangelical leaders such as Bishop Darlingston Johnson of Bethel World Outreach Ministries. The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the largest group of Latino evangelicals signed on to the effort, as well as the National Association of Evangelicals, which counts 450,000 churches.
Organizers are already touting several results this week: On Thursday Sens. Charles E. Shumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) published an editorial in the Washington Post laying out blueprint for an overhaul bill. President Obama immediately endorsed the plan, and promised to help "forge a bipartisan consensus" around the issue this year. And Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised floor time if the bill comes out of the Judiciary committee.
Yet with unemployment at 10 percent and time running short before this fall's midterm election, the odds against passing an immigration overhaul this year would appear to be growing insurmountable.
The march comes as much of official Washington's attention remains riveted on the floor debate over the decisive healthcare vote in the House of Representatives. If, as expected, Democrats enact the measure using procedures that bypass Republican votes, many Republicans, including Graham have vowed not to cooperate on immigration legislation.