Tens of thousands at US immigration reform rallies

Harath Andrade tells the BBC's Ben Wright: "If there was a system in place for immigration my dad wouldn't have to be facing this struggle right now"

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Tens of thousands of demonstrators have rallied across the US in a mass call for citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

The co-ordinated protests were designed to press Congress to act as senators negotiate an immigration reform bill.

In Washington DC cheering crowds gathered outside the Capitol, and more than 1,000 demonstrated in Atlanta.

Lawmakers are expected soon to unveil a bill that would grant a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

The push for immigration reform follows an election in which Hispanic voters overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama and Democratic candidates.

Most of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US are Hispanic, and members of the Republican Party have acknowledged they must support some kind of immigration deal if they hope to win more Hispanic votes, analysts say.

'Jobless Americans'

On Wednesday, gatherings entitled Rally for Citizenship were held in New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Atlanta and dozens of other places.

The demonstrators included farm labourers, domestic workers, union leaders and immigration activists.

"We won't win immigration reform just coming to Washington," said Ben Monterroso, of the Service Employees International Union. "We need to walk the streets all over the country."

Organisers in Washington DC said about 400 coaches brought people into the US capital for the rally in favour of immigration reform.

Democratic lawmakers, including New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, spoke while Latino musicians Olga Tanon and La Santa Cecilia performed.

In the halls of the US Senate, a bipartisan group of senators is close to a deal on legislation that would require tough border security measures to be in place before undocumented immigrants could gain legal status.

It would also enable tens of thousands of legal immigrants to come to the US under a guest worker programme.

Groups favouring stricter immigration laws say the reforms under consideration would exacerbate financial problems for state and local governments and would lead to higher levels of illegal immigration.

Bill expected soon

"There ought to be a rally for the 20 million Americans who can't find a full-time job," Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The bill is expected to be unveiled within days and it could proceed to a vote before the Memorial Day holiday weekend at the end of May.

The US has not undertaken a major push to reform the immigration system since 2007, when a bipartisan bill failed in the Senate.

In 2010, Congress debated but did not approve the Dream Act, which would have given legal status to some young immigrants who came to the US as children.

In June, President Barack Obama unveiled a programme to allow young undocumented workers who immigrated as children to apply for two-year, renewable visas. He has expressed optimism that an immigration bill could be passed in the first half of 2013.

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