WASHINGTON - Protesters from around the country gathered here Sunday for a march expected to draw tens of thousands of people to push Congress to move on a long-delayed immigration reform.
Organizers hope the "March for America" will put immigration reform, which failed in Congress in 2006 and 2007, back on the agenda after a year dominated by health care reform, the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The question for our leaders is what they will do starting Monday, March 22 to deliver on the promise of reform. We have heard promises before," said Clarissa Martinez of the Hispanic organization La Raza on Friday, at a news conference previewing the march.
President Barack Obama promised to reform immigration laws during his campaign for the presidency, but a crush of other priorities has set back efforts to legalize immigrants and offering a path to citizenship.
Just last week, however, two senators outlined a bipartisan framework for comprehensive immigration reform legislation, drawing immediate praise from Obama.
The bill from Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham would lay the path to legalization for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, reinforce border controls and create a process to admit temporary workers and produce biometric Social Security cards.
Undocumented immigrants would also have to pass background checks and demonstrate they are proficient in English before they can earn lawful permanent residence and eventually citizenship.
Obama called on the senators to turn their plan into legislation, urging Congress to act "at the earliest possible opportunity."
Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, said of the latest effort: "We encourage the president and Senators Schumer and Graham to go beyond words and produce legislation.
The White House however has acknowledged that it does not yet have the votes to advance a new bill.
But ahead of key mid-term elections in November, the issue has been drawing more attention.
In the 2008 elections Obama won 67 percent of the vote of the record 10 million Hispanics who went to the polls.