CHICAGO – Thousands of demonstrators called for changes in immigration laws and an end to deportations Wednesday, as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin called legislation being considered in Congress a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" and urged the crowd to keep up the pressure on lawmakers.
The annual May Day march and rally in downtown Chicago came as Congress is considering a sweeping legislative package that would provide a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.
Among them is Aracly Rafael, who came to Chicago illegally 15 years ago and said she decided to participate in the rally for the first time because she has new hope of becoming a citizen. The 35-year-old restaurant worker and mother of two teared up as she talked about what it would mean to live in the country legally.
"I could have a better job and I could travel to see my family in Mexico," said Rafael, who hasn't seen her parents since leaving home for the U.S.
Durbin, who was part of the bipartisan group of eight senators who drafted the immigration legislation, said it was a lengthy process but that supporters are still at "the beginning of this journey." He noted that the legislation was written in collaboration with labor as well as business leaders.
"We have the best chance we've had in 25 years to pass comprehensive immigration reform," the Illinois Democrat said. "We need to seize that opportunity."
While the crowd was largely Latino, it also included representatives from organized labor, churches and other immigrant groups. And like many of the events held across the nation and in countries around the world Wednesday, the Chicago rally featured personal stories from people affected by immigration laws.
Nine-year-old Liz Marquez spoke in both Spanish and English about her father, who came to the U.S. illegally and has been issued a deportation order. Marquez, a U.S. citizen who lives with her parents and three siblings in the Chicago suburb of Stone Park, said every night she worries that her father won't come home. She cried as she pleaded with Durbin for help.
"No child should have to live with that," she said.
May Day rallies started in 2000 in Los Angeles and hit their peak in 2006, after the House of Representatives passed a tough bill against immigration. That year, half a million demonstrators converged on Chicago to demand immigration reform.