WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - On the days when Wendy Aldana can find work as an undocumented immigrant living in Maryland she is still worried about being picked up by police.
But the Guatemala citizen is also worried about what would happen if she is arrested and possibly deported. Then she'd have to decide whether to leave behind with family her 4-year-old son, who is a U.S. citizen because he was born here.
Aldana joined several thousand others Tuesday at a march on the National Mall to urge Congress to pass an immigration bill that would, among other things, allow the nation's estimated 12 million people living here illegally to apply for U.S. citizenship, effectively ending deportations for many of them.
"I worry about that every day," said Aldana, 27. "I don't know if they'll get me today, tomorrow. And then I think about what's going to happen to him. Seeing this today? It gives me hope."
The rally was held despite the National Mall being officially closed due to the partial government shutdown. Some opponents of immigration reform were upset that the concert was able to go on just a week after veterans struggled to get access to the World War II Memorial.
National Parks Service spokesman Mike Litterst said Tuesday's immigration rally is being allowed because it is considered a First Amendment demonstrations. He also said the park service is now allowing veterans to visit the memorial for the same reason.
However, non-veterans not practicing free speech are still barred from the memorials and mall.
The Senate has already passed a sweeping immigration bill that would revamp the legal immigration system and allow the nation's undocumented immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship within 13 years. But the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has taken a slower approach, considering smaller bills that tackle small pieces of immigration.
Tuesday's rally featured speeches by civil rights activists, union representatives, minority groups and some members of Congress calling on House Republicans to get moving on their bills. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republicans from Florida, joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democrats calling on the House to move faster.
Chanting "Si se puede" - "Yes we can" - Pelosi praised the work of immigrants in the United States and explained how "the blood of immigrants flows through all our veins."
"The time is now for our country to live up to the best traditions of liberty and justice for all," she said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said the Senate bill is a bad idea for America because it would double the number of foreign guest workers companies can hire, taking jobs from citizens, and reduce wages for all by adding millions more people to the labor market.
"Why are businesses laying off thousands and then spending a fortune to lobby for 'comprehensive immigration reform'? Because, in Washington, 'comprehensive reform' means increasing the number of immigrant workers to reduce the cost of labor," he said.
Sessions said the House must resist calls to pass a bill "for the public interest and to restore our shrinking middle class."
Following a performance by Calfornia band Los Tigres del Norte the rally was scheduled to turn into a march toward the Capitol building, where dozens of people were expected to get themselves arrested in an act of civil disobedience to draw attention to their cause.
That can't come fast enough for people like Martin Acosta. The Baltimore maintenance worker has a legal work permit, as do most of his relatives. But his 20-year-old daughter does not. He said that has stunted her ability to attend, and afford, university classes she needs to become a teacher.
He said he's been frustrated to see immigration reform take a back seat, once again, to other developments in Congress and says those are all just excuses for opponents.
"Every time we get close, something happens," said Acosta, 42, who came to the U.S. from Mexico 10 years ago. "First it was Syria. Now the budget. This concert hopefully will help get us to the finish line."
Alan Gomez, USA TODAY