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Proposed immigration reform stirs local debate

Published On: Jan 28 2013 07:00:00 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 29 2013 06:44:16 PM EST

The debate over immigration reform is off and running.

The debate over immigration reform is off and running here in Berks County.

President Barack Obama traveled to Las Vegas on Tuesday, where he discussed fixing what he called America's "broken" immigration laws.

Mr. Obama applauded a bipartisanship plan that was the talk of Capitol Hill on Monday.

In Las Vegas, Mr. Obama said his plan would pave the way for as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants to become American citizens.

"It's about time. Many of us including myself and many advocates, have been at this since 2006," said Angel Figueroa, supporter of immigration reform.

In 2006, 6,000 people marched along Penn Street in Reading to raise awareness that immigration reform is necessary.

"Just start with Berks County. If they were to consider this idea of sending back "x" amount of people, Walmarts would go under. Many employers would lose great employees. They are people that have hearts and children. So for me, the fact that they're not documented through the proper process should be filtered out," said Figueroa.

The process to legally become a U.S. citizen, said Figueroa, takes several years and is expensive for many undocumented immigrants. That is why many people, Figueroa said, are, "living in the shadows."

Berks County Patriots chairman Jim Billman called it something else.

"They broke the law. If we break the law, there's penalties, not rewards. I'm not against people coming here legally. We're the land of opportunity," said Billman.

Billman said he fears that the country cannot financially afford to help millions of undocumented immigrants because the country's own financial stability is not secure right now.

"I do have a problem when it's the taxpayers burden and we're over-burdened. We're over-burdened to the point where we can't support ourselves now," said Billman.

If Congress does not act on immigration soon, President Obama said he would propose a bill and "insist they vote on it."