WASHINGTON -- Hoping to build on their success in Maryland, about 200 immigration advocates rallied in front of the White House on Thursday in support of a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration policy.
The effort to revive a national conversation about immigration follows an election in which Latino voters helped pushed Obama to victory in battleground states like Colorado and Nevada. Exit polling shows Hispanics were the only large demographic group to back President Obama with bigger numbers in 2012 than they did in 2008.
"I'm here to celebrate ... and to show the nation that it is possible for immigration reform in the future," said Missael Garcia, a 22-year-old from Dundalk who volunteered in support of the Maryland Dream Act. "Our community is growing. We really hope to not just be able to pass one thing in our state, but in the whole country as well."
Garcia said he attended the Community College of Baltimore County about two years ago but dropped out in part because he was paying out-of-state tuition.
The Maryland Dream Act allows some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. Voters approved the measure in Tuesday's election by nearly 17 percentage points.
"For older students, they came from another country but they want to study -- they need it," said Zara Urgiles, 31, who lives in Baltimore. "Everybody who is able to vote, whether they're an immigrant or not, they should go vote, like I did."
Carrying signs that read "we voted for you, now vote for our families," the message of the rally was clear. What was far less certain is whether broad immigration legislation has any hope in the next Congress -- particularly as lawmakers spend the next several months focusing on pressing fiscal issues.
During his victory speech, Obama called fixing the nation's immigration system a priority. And many high-profile Republicans, most notably Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have argued that the GOP's future may hinge in large part on its ability to reach out to the growing and politically powerful demographic.
But even smaller-scale, previously bipartisan immigration proposals have failed. Legislation to provide legal residency to certain immigrants who were brought to the country as minors failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate in 2010. The prospects for immigration legislation are even bleaker in the GOP-led House.
But supporters gathered in Washington said they are confident the political landscape is changing.
"Latinos are going to be one of the largest voting blocks -- and they proved that in this election," said Arnold Hamilton, a 58-year-old Edgewood man who joined the rally Thursday with other members of the Service Employees International Union. "The numbers are only going to increase."