Thousands expected to march for immigration reform Wednesday

Demonstrators cheer during a "Time is Now" rally for immigration reform on April 6, 2013 in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Demonstrators cheer during a "Time is Now" rally for immigration reform on April 6, 2013 in Jersey City, New Jersey.
John Moore/Getty Images

Thousands of advocates are expected to descend on the nation’s capital Wednesday afternoon to press for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship.

The demonstration, dubbed the “Time is Now” rally by its organizers, is the brainchild of the immigrant community group Casa de Maryland and the labor union SEIU 32BJ, which represents service workers such as janitors, security guards, and food service employees. The two host organizations are members of a national pro-reform coalition called the Alliance for Citizenship.

“The rally tomorrow is really an effort to make sure our legislators understand just how critical immigration reform is to our communities,” Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice for the Center for Community Change, told on Tuesday. Matos’ organization is one of dozens that claim membership in the Alliance for Citizenship, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the YWCA, several of the country’s largest labor unions, MoveOn, and the Center for American Progress.

Comprehensive immigration reform has been on the agenda since President Obama second inauguration, and progressive groups have been mobilizing around the issue since at least early February. Organizers hope Wednesday’s rally will open a new phase in the campaign.

“We see this big day as a kickoff for a campaign that we realize is going to be challenging,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ. He emphasized that while this rally would be a grassroots-style attempt to raise awareness, the coalition would also continue to play the inside game in Washington.

Pro-reform activists have a few reasons to believe this could be the tipping point for a comprehensive reform package. For one thing, representatives from organized labor and the business community have reached a compromise that takes one of the major points of contention off the table. In late March, AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor federation, and the Chamber of Commerce announced that they had reached a mutually acceptable deal on reforming guest worker law.

Legislators on the Hill are currently in the process of translating that deal into legislation, AFL-CIO immigration campaign manager Tom Snyder told msnbc. And while there are still many details to be worked out in the translation process, he said, “we feel confident about it.”

Support for immigration reform “spans the political spectrum” in Congress as well, said Figueroa, who noted that a bipartisan group in the Senate was working on a comprehensive reform bill. “Every indication is they’re going to come to an agreement and announce it shortly.”

But whether that agreement will be acceptable to all the members of the coalition remains to be seen.

“Bottom line is, we want a bill that lays out a clear and expeditious path to citizenship, that’s not tethered to enforcement, and doesn’t have insurmountable barriers,” said Matos.

Activists are likely to be frustrated in their efforts to prevent increased enforcement from becoming a condition of the ultimate citizenship plan. The framework for immigration reform unveiled by the Senate’s bipartisan “gang of eight” in late January said that a “practical road map to address the status of unauthorized immigrants” would be “contingent upon our success in securing our borders and addressing visa overstays.”

If such a bill were to garner bipartisan support on the Hill, then grassroots displeasure with a border enforcement provision might not do much to hinder the legislation’s progress. But either way, the release of the Senate plan will not spell the end of the Alliance for Citizenship’s organizing activities. In addition to the big rally in Washington, organizers say April 10 will feature roughly 40 different “echo” rallies in different cities across the country. Further rallies are expected over the course of the next few months.

“I think it will be a great event,” said Figueroa, referring to the main rally on April 10. “Very spirited. It will set the tone for months to come.”