Cambo Konte with son Macky Fofana. (Photo: Jackie B. Diaz)
WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Thousands poured into the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to urge Congress to pass immigration reform legislation for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
A sea of people from 30 cities wore white shirts to demonstrate solidarity, held up signs, and waved flags from the United States and Latin America, while chanting "What time is it? The time is now!"
"We came to this country [from Mali] because my daughter and I were at risk of genitalia mutilation," said Cambo Konte who attended the rally with her eldest son.
In 2003, Konte, her husband and their three children decided to flee to the United States and reached out to a women's advocacy group. The government gave her one year to file for asylum but she missed the deadline.
"I had a really bad pregnancy and eventually had a miscarriage," she said. "If I would have known that was my only chance I would have crawled on my knees and gone."
Organizers of the National Rally for Citizenship hope the personal stories of those affected by current laws will sway the "Gang of Eight" - four Democrats and four Republicans - that are finalizing an immigration bill.
Elia Lizet de la Cruz Palencia spoke on stage about her battle to obtain legal status. She arrived to the United States from Guatemala in 1993 and tried to apply for residency but her application was rejected and she was deported.
"I left my three children behind, who are American citizens, so five years later I crossed into the country again illegally." Palencia said holding back tears.
Casa de Maryland was able to help Palencia obtain a work permit and she is now battling to get custody of her children who were left in the care of her former husband.
"I constantly live with the uncertainty that one day my work permit will not be renewed," she said.
The event also featured speeches from faith organizations, civil rights advocates, music artists, educators, members of Congress and local government officials like D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray.
"There is power in numbers," Mayor Gray told the crowd while on stage. "The time is now for an immigration reform."
In 1986, an immigration reform bill was passed that allowed up to 3 million undocumented immigrants to become citizens. Since then, immigration bills have been filed and killed repeatedly.
"We need to move forward and find a resolution for all these families who are working so hard to better themselves and be part of this country," Konte said.
The bipartisan immigration bill is expected to be finalized and made public next week. It will then advance to the Senate floor for a vote before Memorial Day.