From California to the U.S. Capitol, thousands took to the streets Wednesday urging Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform that would halt routine deportations and create a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants already living here illegally.
The largest event of almost five dozen across the nation was in Washington, D.C., but immigrants and activists also staged rallies and marches in San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley and many other cities to push for what they say is a matter of moral and social justice.
Their goal could be closer than ever. There has been a renewed bipartisan push for immigration reform this year as Republicans, who suffered heavy losses in the November elections, have realized they'll find it hard to win certain state and national elections without some compromise. A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators is expected to unveil a bill as early as this week.
More than 100 people, many of them Latino and union janitors, rallied at midday outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in downtown San Jose. A few immigrants living in the U.S. illegally shared their stories and argued passionately for passage of a reform bill.
Ana Gonzalez said she was 8 months old when her mother, Teresa Campos, carried her across the border 29 years ago to join her father in California.
"To me, my mother is not a criminal, she's my hero," Gonzalez said. Now 30 and a San Jose State student, Gonzalez has applied for a deferment from deportation, an option granted by President Barack Obama for immigrants brought to this country illegally as children.
Gonzalez said the Senate bill's anticipated requirement for a 13-year waiting period for full legal status is much too long, and she prefers a shorter waiting period.
"I'm 30 now and will be 43 when I qualify," she said. "I want Congress to pass a real solution, not just a temporary fix, a temporary patch or something that will send us home to be quiet and to forget. Because we won't."
In San Francisco, more than 300 protesters targeted the financial district office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who reportedly wouldn't join peers in urging the "Gang of Eight" senators drafting the immigration bill to avoid cutting off visas for extended family members such as brothers, sisters and adult married children.
From Feinstein's office, the marching crowd swelled to some 750 people on the way to the San Francisco Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue to set up an impromptu altar with 1,000 paper flowers, symbolizing the more than 1,000 deportations that occur every day.
"Just like many others, I came here with my family for a better future and a better life," said marcher Eddy Zheng, 43, a project manager at the Community Youth Center of San Francisco. "Everybody deserves the right to a better life, to raise a family, to make a living, and to not be afraid to stay here.
"I'm here marching because we want to give people hope."
In Oakland, more than 100 people rallied in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall before marching to the Federal Building on Clay Street, chanting and carrying signs with slogans such as "Moratorium on deportation" and "No soy illegal."
"Only in America could the daughter of immigrants stand before you demanding that our laws be changed," said Mary Lim-Lampe, lead organizer with the faith-based social justice group Genesis. "For us, it is a moral issue."
Monsignor Antonio Valdivia, a retired Catholic priest, said the marchers reminded him of the United Farm Workers' successful fight for justice in the 1960s. "Years back, we were told it couldn't be done," he said. "I see that spirit here."
Wednesday's scenes echoed those of seven years ago, when people took to the streets as President George W. Bush and a bipartisan group of lawmakers unsuccessfully sought comprehensive immigration reform.
New since then is social media's role in the debate. Facebook and Twitter were still young back then; now, thousands of self-described Dreamers, brought to the United States illegally when they were children, are sharing their stories and perspectives on social media, negotiating with lawmakers and directing their own organizations.
Online networks have also eased the path to welcoming into the pro-immigration reform fold more Asian-Americans, gays and lesbians, Republicans and Silicon Valley tech titans. Buoyed by their online followers and networks, individual activists on both sides also have more effective bullhorns than they did in 2006, when a handful of talk radio hosts had outsize influence in defining the debate's tone.
The movement gained steam in 2010 as Congress debated but did not pass the DREAM Act, which would have granted legal status to young immigrants living illegally in the country.
Staff writers Joe Rodriguez, Natalie Neysa Alund and Matt O'Brien, and the Associated Press, contributed to this report. Contact Josh Richman at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.