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Fresno immigration group calls for citizenship vote

Members of The Fresno Immigration Reform Coalition urged Republican congressmen Tuesday to vote on a pathway to citizenship bill this summer.

Holding signs "America Deserves a Vote on Citizenship," the group of about 20 people said an immigration reform bill passed by the Senate on June 27 deserves a vote.

"Please let the Congress vote," said Roberto De La Cruz of the Service Employees International Union and Mi Familia Vota, who spoke at the news event outside the former GOP headquarters in northeast Fresno.

The Senate bill includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, increased border security by completion of a 700-mile fence and additional border security officers. Young undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children could receive a green card in five years.

House Republicans are expected to hold a conference meeting Wednesday to discuss immigration and how to proceed.

The Senate bill "is not 100% ideal" but the Fresno coalition said it's a bipartisan compromise and the group's members feared changes in the House would make it worse.

"We don't want Republicans to put more bad things on this bill," said Leonel Flores, coordinator of the May First Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said it's doubtful the House will take up the Senate version. "The speaker (John A. Boehner) has been pretty vocal that that is not going to come up," he said.

Valadao said the Senate bill was a good start, and a path to citizenship should be part of immigration reform, but "everything should be on the table," he said. "At the end of the day, we have to get something that works for everybody and something that works for the long term."

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, did not respond to request for comment.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, said the Senate bill cannot have a hearing because it was not agreed to beforehand, but he couldn't support it, regardless. "The bill just doesn't work," he said.

He supports a complete immigration overhaul, he said, and to get a good law will take time.

Nunes said he was not familiar with the Fresno Coalition for Immigration Reform, but questioned its leaders' strategy of targeting Republican representatives. Attempts to make immigration reform a political issue will backfire, he said. "When it becomes politicized, this kills reform," he said.

The Fresno Immigration Reform Coalition includes members from the UFW Foundation, SEIU International, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, El Concilio, the Latino Caucus UHW and Fresno Immigrant Youth.

Clarita Cortes, the community outreach coordinator for the United Farm Workers Foundation, said the group's effort is motivated by 11 million people who live in the shadows, including 4 million farm workers. "They live in fear of being deported and being separated from their families," she said.

The Fresno coalition had a letter addressed to House Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, from organizations representing business, labor, faith and immigrant communities, which said Californians want a vote on a path to citizenship. The group had planned to hand the letter to the regional chairman of the California Republican Party, Marcelino Valdez. Valdez did not attend the event, but said he left a telephone message saying he would try to meet with someone later.

The letter said Californians favor letting undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for a number of years stay and become citizens, if they have a job, learn English and pay back taxes. It asked McCarthy to "take these California values to your Conference meeting on July 10 and urge your colleagues to take a vote on the pathway to citizenship in the House of Representatives this summer."

A call to McCarthy for comment was not returned.

Venancio Gaona, chairman of Concerned Citizens for Representative Government, an advocacy group for Latino rights, said pressure on California representatives in Congress will continue. "The pathway to immigration reform passes through California."