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October 09, 2013

Thousands Rally for Immigration Reform Stalled by Government Shutdown

by Arash Arabasadi

The U.S. government shutdown has stalled an immigration reform bill that could affect an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.  The measure could offer undocumented immigrants amnesty and a pathway to citizenship.  For supporters, who rallied in Washington this week, each day the government remains closed is another blow to progress.  But opponents argue the shutdown provides more time to discuss the controversial issue.

It started with a few hundred people on the National Mall.  It swelled to several thousand by midafternoon.  There were familiar faces from the U.S. civil rights movement, and there was civil disobedience that led to the arrests of about 200 people. 

At the center of the protest - an immigration reform bill passed in the Democrat-led Senate, but now stalled in the Republican-controlled House.

“We are here to show support for all these people that have no documents, and the families that have been destroyed for these laws, and to bring support to everybody,” said Roberto from San Francisco in California.

Juan Romero, who is living in Silver Spring, Maryland, said, “The people that are here, that have came to this country - either way, illegally or legally - that it’s time to create a path towards citizenship.”

But opponents argued against giving amnesty to those here illegally.

"This is supposedly a rally for dignity for illegal aliens.  People that basically broke our laws.  Wait a second.  What happened here?  What’s wrong with this picture that somebody who broke our laws is now asking for dignity, or demanding dignity, I suppose.  It’s bizarre,” said Jim McDonald of Alexandria in Virginia.

The amnesty question along with the government shutdown have indefinitely stalled the bill.

“As long as the president insists on having amnesty attached to any sort of immigration reform, that’s not policy the American people should embrace and something that won’t pass Congress.  So the fact that that’s delayed because of the real, important issues… I don’t see that there’s a downside to that,” said Dan Holler of the conservative group, Heritage Action for America.

Back on the Mall, there’s a different feeling that immigration reform will pass this year.

“I’m here today because enough is enough," said Rev. Scott Marks from New Haven, Connecticut. "We need immigration reform now!”

“Because everybody has family here.  They come here, working hard.  And I would like everybody to have the freedom to speak [and] to work without fear of being deported,” said Ires Bares from Chantilly in Virginia.

“We spend money.  Forget humanitarian reasons.  Look at the green.  We spend money.  You need us.  We pay for your lifestyle.  When you retire the check is coming from our paychecks.  So wake up.  Come and join us,” he said.

It remains unclear when or if the budget stalemate will end.  Until then, the U.S. government continues operating with limited staffing, while many bills before the U.S. Congress remain at an impasse.