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Gov. Jerry Brown is thrusting himself into the federal fight over creating a "pathway to citizenship" for millions of undocumented immigrants who entered the United States illegally.

"I expect to play a role in the national effort for comprehensive reform," Brown said in a statement released by his office Thursday. "I'll be directing some efforts on national reform."

Brown's personal involvement is significant because California is home to an estimated 2.9 million undocumented immigrants, about one of every four nationwide.

Gil Duran, Brown's spokesman, said the governor will "carry the message to Washington" that comprehensive immigration reform is needed, underscoring its importance to California's economy.

Brown has been talking to business, agriculture, labor and other groups about "how best to be part of that conversation," Duran said.

"It seems that in both Washington and certainly here in California, people recognize the importance of addressing comprehensive immigration reform," Duran said. "It does appear there may be some bipartisan support. The time to act has come."

Brown, in his first two years as governor, generally has opposed bills that expand undocumented immigrants' rights in piecemeal fashion. There have been exceptions, however.

The Democratic governor last year signed a bill permitting the issuance of driver's licenses to participants in President Barack Obama's Deferred Action program for longtime undocumented immigrants who came to the United States when they were young and have lived productive lives since then.

In 2011, Brown signed legislation permitting numerous undocumented students to apply for Cal Grants and other state financial aid. The bill targeted longtime residents who attended California high schools.

* Updated at 5:40 p.m. Thursday to say that Brown will argue for comprehensive immigration reform and underscore its importance to California's economy.



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