Immigration Protesters Aim For Rally To Motivate Lawmakers

Thousands of demonstrators backing more generous immigration rules are expected at a big rally on Capitol Hill Wednesday. They're demanding swift action by Congress. But while preliminary agreement has been reached on a range of immigration issues, it could be weeks before a bill appears in the Senate.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, here in Washington they are calling it the All-In for Citizenship rally. Tens of thousands of demonstrators are expected today on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. It's to be the biggest event yet in the push to revamp the nation's immigration laws. And congressional negotiators say they are close to unveiling a comprehensive immigration bill. NPR's David Welna tells us how close.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: So close, says Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, that he and the seven other senators, known as the Gang of Eight, aim to get an immigration bill done this week.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: There is nothing that we don't think we can get through.

WELNA: Senate Republicans blocked the last attempt six years at overhauling immigration laws, but many appear to have had a change of heart after Latinos voted overwhelmingly for President Obama last November. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell was asked yesterday whether the Gang of Eight can produce a successful immigration makeover.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I'm optimistic that they will. This is something that I think majorities of both sides in the Senate would like to see go forward.

WELNA: One remaining sticking point involves how many foreign farmworkers would be allowed and how much they'd get paid. United Farmworkers president Arturo Rodriguez met yesterday with Democratic senators working to close a deal.

ARTURO RODRIGUEZ: There is a fair deal on the table for the ag industry to accept. And today they have to decide.

WELNA: Critics of an immigration overhaul say it would hurt American workers. Senate Jeff Sessions is a Republican from Alabama.

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: I'm absolutely convinced for a host of reports that it would have the effect of pulling down the wages of already struggling low-skilled American workers.

WELNA: Sessions wants to slow down the push to revamp immigration laws. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who's in the Gang of Eight, does not.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I'm going to fight for this bill. I'm going to listen to what other people have to say to make it better. But if your goal is to kill it by process, I'm not going to agree to that.

WELNA: Graham says he's never been more optimistic about a bill he describes as close but not there yet. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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GREENE: From Venezuela this week and Washington, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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