Democrats on Capitol Hill favoring citizenship for illegal aliens say they have been buoyed by the massive rallies across the country, but opponents of amnesty warn that they will ultimately backfire.
The gatherings have given backing to lawmakers who want to give a direct path to citizenship for aliens even though polls show most American voters strongly oppose what many call "amnesty."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and a leading backer of such legalization bills, invoked civil rights icon Martin Luther King when he spoke at yesterday's rally on the Mall.
"They say you should report to deport," Mr. Kennedy said of conservatives and a growing number of union-backed liberals who oppose granting citizenship to illegals. "I say report to become American citizens."
These rallies also have turned into Democratic recruitment centers for reaching new voters. They often feature posters and fliers for Democratic candidates, and many include voter-registration booths.
At a press conference last month, House Republicans expressed deep anger at the images of demonstrators waving Mexican flags in the streets of Los Angeles and Houston.
"I say if you are here illegally and want to fly the Mexican flag, go to Mexico and wave the American flag," said Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., Virginia Republican.
"All these folks who are here illegally know they can protest brazenly," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and longtime proponent of stricter immigration controls. "It's really a mockery of our immigration system."
Yesterday, Mr. Tancredo said the protests reveal how powerful illegal aliens have become in the U.S.
"Today's rallies show how entrenched the illegal alien lobby has become over the last several years," he said. "The iron triangle of illegal employers, foreign governments and groups like La Raza puts tremendous pressure on our elected officials to violate the desires of law-abiding Americans and to grant amnesty."
Mr. Tancredo said he's doubtful that those elected officials will prevail without paying a heavy price.
"As nearly every recent poll shows, Americans want secure borders, not amnesty. And sooner or later, they'll elect representatives who will listen to their constituents," he said, adding that the negative tenor of the protests will backfire.
"Protesters tried to demonize those who want secure borders because it's easier to hide behind nasty names and half-truths than to articulate a position," Mr. Tancredo said. "Demonizing well-meaning Americans doesn't play well in the heartland, and it's not helpful to Congress as we grapple with this difficult issue."
But for many, the movement and those behind it are no different than the civil rights movement to grant black Americans equal standing.
"More than four decades ago, near this place, Martin Luther King called on the nation to let freedom ring," Mr. Kennedy said. "Freedom did ring and freedom can ring again. It is time for Americans to lift their voices now -- in pride for our immigrant past and in pride for our immigrant future."