Jacquelyn Martin / AP
A crowd fills the lawn on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2103, during the "Rally for Citizenship."
There were Mexican and Salvadorian ones, but, in the sea of flags flying above thousands of ralliers for immigration reform in front of the Capitol Wednesday, most of them were American.
Echoing President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign anthem of “Yes we can,” the crowd shouted "Si se puede," as a series of speakers - often weaving seamlessly between English and Spanish - urged passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Organizers said 300 buses from around the country brought thousands of activists to the National Mall for the Rally for Citizenship, organized by the labor group Service Employees International Union, pro-reform group America's Voice, CASA de Maryland and other groups.
Protestors took to the Capitol, shouting 'The time is now!' as politicians decide the fate of millions of undocumented immigrants. NBC's Tom Costello reports.
"Work hard!" Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., implored from the podium. "Push us! Keep pushing us and together we will deliver immigration reform this year!"
Sen. Bob Menendez, one of the senators working on a bipartisan deal, told attendees that the legislative language of a Senate bill was being written in the Capitol buildings just steps away.
"The Gang of Eight senators ... have come to an agreement on all the major issues," he said to cheers. "We are writing the bill as we speak."
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told NBC News that the rally will spur lawmakers to action – particularly on keeping a pathway to citizenship in the final legislation.
“What we’re really thrilled about is the staying power of this group,” she said of the rally. “It reflects a growing momentum. People are going to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform happens now.”
Attendees said that – along a method for undocumented immigrants to be eligible for legalization and eventual citizenship – keeping mixed-status families together was a top priority.
Janet Murguia, the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, shares her thoughts on reports that the "Gang of Eight" will release their long-awaited immigration bill as early as Monday or Tuesday.
“When we consider over 1000 people are deported every day, that’s a thousand broken families, a thousand broken jobs, a thousand divisions in communities all over the country,” said Fr. Brendan Curran, of St Pius V Parish in Chicago.
A group of about a dozen children waving American flags in the crowd had donned t-shirts reading “Don’t deport my mom.”
Others in the crowd said that opponents of reform believe that immigrants want to impose their culture on the rest of the nation.
“They misunderstand. They believe that we are here to take over, but we are here for a better future and a better life for our families,” said Tatiana Murphy, who came from Bolingbrook, Ill., for the rally. “That’s all we are looking for.”
The bipartisan negotiators are expected to unveil a bill – likely early next week – after the Gang completes a review of the complete legislative language.
“We have an entire first draft of the bill, but not everyone has agreed to each part of that draft,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, another member of the Gang of Eight, told reporters. “And people will say 'oh I didn't quite mean that' and so we’ll have to go back and look at the language," he said.
Some Republicans have grumbled about the process planned to review the legislation, saying that the bill will be “rammed” through committee and onto the Senate floor. Conservatives on the Senate’s budget panel sent a letter to the bipartisan group Wednesday to object to the possible costs of federal benefits for undocumented workers who would be eligible for legal probationary status under the Senate legislation.
Schumer and other Democratic members of the Gang of Eight briefed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Wednesday on the planned contents of the bill.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was scheduled to do the same for the GOP Senate caucus, but lawmakers in the closed luncheon said that gun control legislation dominated the discussion and the issue was not addressed in the meeting.
Gang of Eight member Lindsey Graham told reporters that Senate Republicans will “absolutely” be briefed on the contents of the bill before it is made public.
When will that happen?
“Soon,” he replied, smiling.
This story was originally published on Wed Apr 10, 2013 6:46 PM EDT