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A bipartisan group of state lawmakers lauded the federal government's pursuit of immigration changes in a press conference today, saying the issue is particularly urgent in California given the state's huge immigrant population.

"Modernizing our antiquated and dysfunctional immigration system will uphold our nation's basic values of fairness, equality as well as opportunity," said Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, author of a resolution urging the federal government to act.

The outlines of separate reform proposals put forward by the U.S. Senate and the Obama administration are still vague, but both plans included measures to open a path to citizenship for the nation's millions of undocumented immigrants, fortify border security and crack down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants and offer more visas to high-skilled immigrants.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, who was in the audience earlier this week when President Barack Obama unveiled his immigration proposal in Nevada, delivered comments in Spanish before switching to English.

"We know that our system is broken. Across the world there are folks waiting in lines to come to America who will bring vital skills to our workforce and economy," Pérez said.
"But they will also bring with them their hopes for a better future for themselves and their families. Those dreams are shared by millions of undocumented immigrants already living in the United States, performing work that is vital to our economy."

The event also featured supportive words from the agricultural industry and organized labor, which have butted heads over workplace issues. Caitlin Vega, a legislative advocate with the California Labor Federation, called carving out a route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants a "top priority." And Rayne Pegg, manager of the California Farm Bureau Federation's federal policy division, stressed the need for a visa program for agricultural workers.

"Right now, farmers are struggling to find domestic workers, and we rely on a foreign workforce," Pegg said.

Several Republican lawmakers backed an immigration overhaul. Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, said he was motivated by "policy, not politics" and distanced himself from Republicans who have advocated tougher immigration laws.

But when pressed on the pro-enforcement rhetoric the Republican Party has adopted in recent years -- including Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney advocating a policy of "self-deportation" -- Cannella said Republicans have little choice but to acknowledge the momentum behind immigration reform.

"This is going to happen, and if anyone wants to get in the way they are going to get steamrolled," Cannella said.

Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, recounted speaking with members of the Armed Forces who are serving despite not being citizens. He also cast immigration reform as a law enforcement issue, saying many victimized immigrants are afraid to approach authorities.

"Public safety at a community level is impacted strongly by the inability of this country to deal with immigration," Chávez, a former Marine, said.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, opens a press conference Thursday backing the federal push for immigration reform. Jeremy B. White/The Sacramento Bee.


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