It is estimated there are 11 million undocumented laborers residing in the United States today. What to do about either making them citizens or sending them back to their home countries has been a quandary since the U. S. was formed almost 240 years ago.
Last week, plans to change immigration policy for the first time in 27 years sent lawmakers into a frenzy of negotiations. Accusations of amnesty for the undocumented were heard alongside calls for the measure to be approved.
This week, as policy makers met to hammer out the details, a grass roots coalition of farm labor groups worked to bring pressure on Congress by taking their cause to the streets.
Thousands of immigrants and activists rallied across the U.S. this week in a coordinated set of protests aimed at pressing Congress to approve sweeping immigration reform. If passed the measure would create a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D - Illinois: “I will tell you what I have been telling people across the country. Work hard. Push us, keep pushing us, and together we will deliver immigration reform this year.
Demonstrations took place not only in Washington DC but also in states across the US. In Atlanta, Georgia, more than 1,000 people marched calling for comprehensive changes to immigration policy and an end to deportation.
In Los Angeles, California, protesters marched to the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, a democrat, to deliver a letter that called for immigration reform stating, “The future well-being and prosperity of California depend upon an immigration system that truly respects and values the humanity and contributions of immigrants - undocumented and documented.”
Protester : " "we need it right now. Immigration for 11 million people that we have here in the U.S. Working in the shadows....that's inhumane."
According to labor and industry estimates, up to 80 percent of the nation's approximately 2 million farm workers are here illegally. Growers say they need a better way to hire labor legally, but wages and visa caps have been sticking points between the United Farm Workers or UFW and agriculture interests.
The UFW, a farm labor advocacy group contends that growers are trying to push farm workers below their current average wage of $10.80 an hour. Growers argue wages are skewed by a small number of high earners, and that most farm workers make less.
On Thursday, the bipartisan “gang of eight” senators who were tasked with of retooling the nations immigration laws, announced that they had reached an agreement.
The landmark legislation would overhaul legal immigration programs, crack down on employers who hire people in the country illegally, and boost border security.
Senator Dick Durbin, a democrat from Illinois and member of the “gang of eight,” believes the bill, which enacts the biggest changes to U.S. immigration law in more than a quarter-century, could be introduced as early as Tuesday.