By Sarah Karush
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Frustrated with the pace of action to overhaul the country’s immigration system, thousands of demonstrators descended on the nation’s capital Sunday, waving American flags and holding homemade signs in English and Spanish.
President Barack Obama, who promised to make overhauling the immigration system a top priority in his first year, sought to reassure those at the rally with a video message presented on giant screens at the National Mall. The president said he was committed to working with Congress this year on a comprehensive bill to fix a “broken immigration system.”
Obama said problems include families being torn apart, employers gaming the system and police officers struggling to keep communities safe.
The president, whose comments were released as he worked to get last-minute votes on a health care overhaul, said he would do everything in his power to forge a bipartisan consensus on immigration reform.
Some demonstrators were disappointed immigration reform hasn’t come sooner.
Adolfo Recinas, 38, held one end of a large banner reading “Latinos for Legalization and Immigration Reform.” Recinas said his message to Congress was: “Don’t make any more excuses.”
“I’m illegal and I got a business. I pay taxes,” said the Prince Georges County resident who moved to the U.S. some 23 years ago and now lives northeast of D.C.
There are about 12 million undocumented immigrants. March organizers said people traveled from around the country in hopes the rally will re-energize the legislative effort to create a mechanism for them to gain legal status.
“It is hard because most people are worried about health care reform and stuff,” said Manuel Bettran, a 21-year-old college student from Chicago who came by bus.
Bettran said his parents overstayed their visas in the U.S. but were able to take advantage of an amnesty in the 1980s to become citizens.
“Fortunately, they were able to become citizens during the last amnesty but I know many people that weren’t that lucky,” said the American-born Bettran, adding that his brother was never able to gain legal status and had to leave the U.S.