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Thousands of immigration activists gathered outside the U.S. Capitol this afternoon. They came to voice support for changes to immigration policy, including a path to citizenship for the millions of people currently in this country illegally. The event is sponsored by a coalition made up of religious organizations, labor unions and immigrant rights groups. The rally comes as eight senators, the so-called Group of Eight, say they are in the final stages of drafting an immigration bill.
NPR's national political correspondent, Don Gonyea, was at the rally this afternoon. And he described the scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Well, it's noisy. There are a lot of people here. You know, it's hard to say how many who we're on the West lawn of the Capitol, so between the Capitol steps in the Capitol Reflecting Pool, it is full. There a lot of people. There's a lot of music. A lot of people marched here. And I can tell you, people here are also impatient for something to be done on this issue.
CORNISH: What are they saying? I mean, what's the message that they want to get across?
GONYEA: There are signs all over the place. And the most common sign is one that says: Citizenship For 11 Million. That obviously talks about the path to citizenship that they're hoping to see for the 11 million or so people who are in the country, you know, without proper documentation. The other popular sign you see is a map of the United States with the hands of the clock on it approaching midnight. And it says: The Time Is Now, All In For Citizenship.
And person after person here says that they know somebody; that they have a family member; that it's time for promises to be kept; that the Congress and the people in power in the White House have put this off too long.
Give a listen to this young man we spoke to. His name is Jesse Incimmeron(ph). He's 17 years old. He's here with his church group.
JESSE INCIMMERON: On the sign, it's Obama with a Mexican sombrero showing that he promised a lot of us many things, but he hasn't completed them. And what we just want, we just want him to complete his promises.
CORNISH: And, Don, we've had big immigration rallies on the National Mall in the past. And it sounds like the issues remain the same. I mean, do people there really have the sense that politics are now in place that are different, that they'll have a bill this time?
GONYEA: Everybody looked at the exit polls after the last election. You may recall that Republican candidates, especially during the primaries, talked very tough on immigration, you know about self-deportation. That was the term that Mitt Romney used. And President Obama got 70 percent of the Latino vote. We also know that the number of Hispanics in the country is growing, as a percentage of the total population. And they are better organized and turning out to vote in higher percentages.
So everybody is looking at those numbers. And we saw it right after the election, a lot of Republicans who might have previously taken a hard line saying guess what, we need to deal with this issue now. So that is certainly what has changed, even though none of the numbers in terms of, you know, how many illegal immigrants there are in the country and the other issues have changed. It's the politics that have changed.
CORNISH: And yet there are still sticking points. Tell us - walk us through some of the trouble spots.
GONYEA: Well, there are certainly questions about border security and how much the border needs to be secured before any sort of a path to citizenship can kick in for people. A lot of people here are concerned that families are still being broken up, and that it'll still take a long, long time - too long for people to get citizenship or get their Green Card.
And even before that, there are still outside hurdles to clear. The United Farm Workers are currently involved in negotiation with, you know, the growers out in California and around the country. And they're still trying to work out a deal on wages and how many visas should be allowed. And all of that really does need to be in place before they can start debating in good faith here in Washington. That's the sense of it.
CORNISH: That's NPR's national political correspondent, Don Gonyea, at the Capitol. Don, thank you.
GONYEA: It's my pleasure.
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