Updated Oct. 9, 9:30 a.m.:
More than 200 protestors were arrested after blocking a street near the Capitol Building during an immigration rally on Tuesday, including at least eight Democratic U.S. House members. One of them was U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston.
“A misdemeanor charge is a penalty that I am willing to accept to raise awareness on the issue of immigration reform,” Green said in a statement. “Families are being torn apart and whole communities are plagued by uncertainty, and as a result are unable to live up to their full potential.”
WASHINGTON – Thousands of activists marched here on Tuesday in an effort to advance immigration reform in a Congress slowed to a crawl by the partial federal government shutdown. Nearly 200 other U.S. cities including San Antonio, Houston, Austin and Dallas hosted their own rallies over the weekend, ramping up enthusiasm that spilled over to the National Mall.
But dwindling calendar days and a prolonged shutdown may push immigration off this year’s agenda. Activists are holding out hope for a vote in the House on a reform bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Florida Democrat
“I’m still optimistic that we can pass comprehensive reform in 2013,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, after appearing before the crowd alongside House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers. “The fact is, the American people have spoken loud and clear that they want us to fix our broken immigration system. The question is whether Congress is going to listen to the American people or not.”
Despite the government shutdown, rounds of “sí se puede,” or “yes we can,” echoed down the National Mall. The Obama administration allowed the demonstration to go on, even though national monuments and the Smithsonian museums are closed.
Activists waved American flags and many brought their children, milling in the stretch between the Capitol and the Washington Monument before marching toward the Capitol.
As it stands, Garcia’s bill incorporates many elements of legislation passed by the Senate earlier this year. The Florida lawmaker’s bill sets out a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But it drops the Senate’s Corker-Hoeven amendment, which would beef up border enforcement.
“The Republican leadership needs to put it up for a vote,” said Jose Manuel Escobedo, deputy director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights. “There are enough Republicans that have expressed support for immigration reform and, together with the support from the Democrats, there are enough votes if the [House Republican] leadership would let it happen.”
The sticking point for some Republicans is amnesty, said Dan Holler, communications director for the conservative group Heritage Action for America.
“Folks that are here now would immediately have legal status in the United States, not citizenship, but the ability to live in this country legally,” Holler said. “It strikes at the fundamental idea of fairness. They’re getting ahead of the line [of those waiting to enter the country legally].”
While immigration advocates were hopeful earlier this year of passing the first comprehensive reforms since 1986, Holler said the chances are slim until lawmakers effectively deal with border enforcement. “Only when you have that done can you actually have a coherent strategy to deal with the people who are here,” he said.
Democrats say Republicans should be seizing the opportunity to act on immigration, considering how poorly their candidates performed among Hispanic voters in the 2012 national election. In the 2012 presidential election, 71 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama.
But Holler said that even support for amnesty would not translate into votes for the GOP. “Republicans need to explain why their policies help their families and improve job prospects,” he said. “Until they are able to do that, it doesn’t matter whose votes they’re trying to win over.”
Back on the National Mall, the march for some was less about politicking and more of a symbolic moment. “I march for me and for my baby,” said Carlos Mendoza of Silver Spring, Md. Justin, his 19-month-old son, stood between his legs and held a sign that read “dignidad,” or “dignity.”
The Medill News Service is a content partner of The Texas Tribune and is providing reports from Washington, D.C.