Immigration reform advocates demonstrate in over 200 congressional offices

As 2013 comes to a close and Congress prepares to wind down, advocates are making a forceful push for immigration reform. From the Capitol to the National Mall, immigration activists turned out in large numbers to show support for comprehensive reform.

On Capitol Hill, a coalition of immigration reform advocate groups sat in on more than 200 congressional offices and chanted in support of comprehensive reform. The usually somber Capitol halls were filled with protesters singing “We Shall Overcome,” chanting “Si se puede!” and, at times, yelling as they made their way to congressional offices, including those of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY).

“Leaders today saw a preview of the 2014 campaign to win immigration reform,” said CASA in Action Executive Director Gustavo Torres in a statement from the Fair Immigration Reform Movement. “We will not stand by as millions of families and communities get ripped apart, leaving children alone without their parents, and people to die in the desert trying to come to this country for a better life.”

Capitol Police told NBC News that no arrests were made, but police responded to “demonstration activity being reported in multiple rooms in multiple House office buildings.”

Meanwhile, other activists marched from the National Mall to the “Fast for Families” community tent. The procession included SEIU‘s Eliseo Media and Rudy Lopez, Senior Organizer for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), who ended his fast today after 22 days. Lopez first began fasting on Nov. 21.

“Congress has heard our call and many members have responded. Others have remained silent. But our movement has grown stronger and larger every day,” said “Fast for Families” in a statement released after their procession. The group added that, “we are more determined than ever to make commonsense immigration reform a reality. It is no longer a matter of IF reform will pass, it is a matter of WHEN.”

The fasters were joined by Congressional leaders Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. Earlier, New Jersey Sens. Bob Menendez and recently-elected Cory Booker, both Democrats, met with the fasters in their tent to show support for their cause. They both pledged to fast for one day in solidarity with “Fast for Families.”

But while advocates pushed for comprehensive immigration reform including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing called “Asylum Abuse: Is It Overwhelming our Borders?” The hearing questioned whether the nation’s asylum system is letting too many immigrants into the country and abusing a system intended to grant refuge to those fearing persecution.

In a statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the “Dream 9” and the “Dream 30” advocacy groups,  “…have undertaken a strategy of staging public violations of immigration laws – in a brazen attempt to politicize the issue of immigration reform.  They somehow seem to believe that this is productive. It is just the opposite.”

Yet support for immigration reform has come from bipartisan religious, business and civic groups, many who have visited the fasters in recent weeks.

Advocates pledge to continue putting pressure on Washington in the days to come. SEIU spokeswoman Beatriz Lopez told NBC Latino that the “Fast for Families” campaign will go on, albeit in a different form, for the remainder of this year and into next year.

FIRM spokesperson Kica Matos echoed the continued effort in a statement, saying, “Throughout 2013, activists have stepped up and escalated pressure on Congress to act on immigration reform and we will not give up our fight and we will return in 2014 stronger than ever and more united in our mission.”

Suzanne Gamboa contributed to this report.

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