(WASHINGTON) — Thousands of immigrants and activists flocked to the U.S. Capitol Wednesday afternoon to urge Congress to overhaul the immigration system for more than 11 million people living in the United States illegally.
The so-called Gang of Eight senators working on immigration were expected to introduce a piece of legislation by the end of the week after months of negotiating. But they announced on Wednesday that reform would have to be pushed back a few days to make room for the gun control debate.
Despite lawmakers’ focus on guns, the rally, called Citizenship for 11 Million, drew thousands of activists to the district to include their voices in lawmakers’ last-minute discussions as an immigration bill is being finalized.
Giselle Stern Hernandez, an immigrant from Mexico, held a sign that read, “I am a Deported Man’s Wife.”
“When [my husband’s] deportation happened in 2001, people were protesting, but not in the national dialogue the way it is now, so it is deeply emotional for me,” Hernandez told ABC News at the rally. “I’m not putting any hopes on seeing the reform that I would like, but at least these people are engaged in the dialogue.”
She added, “We can’t just stay in our corners.”
Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and originally from Liberia, held a sign that echoed a refrain heard across the grounds in both English and Spanish: “The time is now.”
“It is time, actually it is past time, for immigration reform for the over 11 million people in this country coming out of the shadows,” Woods told ABC News. “We, all of us, have found family members, community members, church members facing deportation in inhumane conditions and we’re here to say, ‘Enough is enough.'”
Washington was not the only city rallying for the cause.
Cities across the country are pressing Congress for comprehensive immigration overhaul in community gatherings this week. Staten Island, N.Y., New Haven, Conn., Charlottesville, Va., and Boston are just some of the cities that have hosted rallies in an attempt to voice their respective demands.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Dylan Byers Sara Murray and Kevin Liptak, CNN
Dylan Byers, CNN
Dylan Byers, CNN
Eugene Scott, CNN