Hundreds of people from across California descended Wednesday on Bakersfield by car and bus to rally for an immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants lacking legal status.
Organized by labor unions, immigrant rights group and faith communities, the rally was meant to pressure U.S. Rep Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield - the Republican House whip - to support comprehensive reform.
McCarthy, whose 23rd Congressional District is 35 percent Latino, does not support a path to citizenship.
"We should not provide any amnesty that would benefit those who defy our laws and enter the United States illegally," his website states.
In a statement released on Wednesday, he said the House would consider a series of narrowly focused bills instead of a comprehensive measure.
"I have long said that our immigration system is broken, but ... the House will move in a step by step approach that first secures the border," McCarthy said.
A counter-protest of a few dozen people took place in front of McCarthy's office. Organized by We the People California Crusader, the protest called for current immigration laws to be enforced and advocated against immigration reform.
The rally calling for immigration overhaul was staged as immigration advocates target House Republicans around the country, pushing them to pass legislation that could be merged with a Senate-passed bill once they return to Washington in September after a five-week summer recess.
The Senate bill, passed with bipartisan support in June, takes a comprehensive approach with billions of dollars for border security, reforms to visa programs and workplace enforcement, and a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally.
The Alliance for Citizenship - an umbrella group of unions and other groups that is targeting 50 Republican House members - is touting comments from a handful of GOP lawmakers indicating qualified support for a pathway to citizenship.
Those opposed to reform are also trying to make themselves heard, but their coalition is smaller and less well-financed.
An event in Richmond, Va., on Monday organized by the Tea Party Patriots and NumbersUSA, drew only a sparse crowd. It featured leading immigration hard-liner Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
Advocates involved in the last congressional effort to pass an immigration bill, which failed on the Senate floor in 2007, said the momentum appears to be more favorable this time around.
"The ground game is much, much better than it was in those past battles, so I think it's going very well," Randy Johnson, senior vice president at the Chamber of Commerce, said in a phone interview. "All I can say is in 2005, 2006, we were swamped" by opponents.
Still, it remains an uphill battle to push the GOP-led House to pass legislation that could be merged with the Senate bill - and a path to citizenship remains a major hurdle.