WASHINGTON — Frustrated with the lack of action to overhaul the country’s immigration system, thousands of demonstrators rallied on the National Mall and marched through the streets of the capital Sunday, waving American flags and holding homemade signs in English and Spanish.

Supporters traveled from around the country in hopes the rally would re-energize Congress to take up the volatile issue. Smaller demonstrations were also held in several cities across the country.

Some lawmakers oppose any attempt to help an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants become U.S. citizens while others insist on stronger border controls first.

President 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. He 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 struggling to keep communities safe. He said he will do everything in his power to forge a bipartisan consensus on immigration reform.

Some demonstrators were disappointed there hasn’t been more action a year into Obama’s term.

“I understand it may not all be his fault,” said Manuel Bettran, a college student from Chicago. “I am frustrated. I really wish not just him, but everybody, would take it more seriously. “

Bettran arrived in Washington on Sunday after a 13-hour bus ride. Like many at the rally, he had a personal connection to the issue. His parents were once illegal immigrants, but were able to take advantage of an amnesty in the 1980s.

“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 United States.

Lawmakers failed to agree in 2006 and 2007 when they last tried to overhaul the immigration system, and the political climate is even tougher now.

Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released an outline of a bill last week that calls for illegal immigrants who want to get on the path to legal status to admit they broke the law by entering the United States, pay fines and back taxes, and perform community service. They also would be required to pass background checks and be proficient in English before working toward legal residency, required before becoming a citizen.

Ben Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a speaker at the rally, said the activists no doubt got the attention of lawmakers by converging on the mall “on the one Sunday Congress was in session.”


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