WASHINGTON — — Immigration reform advocates are organizing thousands of Marylanders to attend a Capitol Hill rally on Wednesday to bring attention to negotiations in the Senate over immigration.
The rally, conceived by CASA de Maryland's executive director, Gustavo Torres, is expected to draw tens of thousands of people from across the country — though organizers say most will arrive from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
A bipartisan group of eight senators has been working behind the scenes for months to draft an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, an effort that gained political momentum after Hispanic voters — a growing voting demographic — flocked to Democratic candidates in last year's election.
The group expects to unveil draft legislation as soon as this week.
"Finally, it seems like we're on the verge of something happening," said the Rev. Robert Wojtek, a Baltimore priest who plans to attend the rally. Wojtek's Roman Catholic parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highlandtown, has a large Spanish-speaking congregation.
Rally organizers say about 190 buses have been reserved to carry Maryland demonstrators from Baltimore, Frederick, Ocean City and elsewhere to the Capitol.
Supporters of overhauling immigration laws believe this might be the best opportunity in years to strike a deal that includes a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people who are in the country illegally. The bipartisan group includes several conservative Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
But the group has faced setbacks and has missed several self-imposed deadlines to produce specific language — a critical turning point that will allow advocates and opponents to begin lobbying for and against the plan.
A group of lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House is also negotiating behind the scenes on an immigration bill.
Several critical issues are still being negotiated, including how to improve border security and how to create a visa program for immigrant farm workers. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is part of the talks, said Tuesday he expects legislation by the end of the week.
"We have been here before, but this time is different," Torres said. "We are different. Washington is different."