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Looking for a solution

Supporters say the population boost will help the economy, and the path to citizenship will help solve one of the nation’s most vexing legal problems. And don’t call it amnesty, they say.

Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, points to provisions in the bill that require illegal immigrants to undergo background checks, pay taxes and a fine, and wait for a probationary period before obtaining citizenship, which can take up to 15 years.

“Earned legalization is not amnesty,” he said during an immigration forum last week sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers. “I will debate anybody who tries to suggest that these ideas that are moving through Congress are amnesty. They’re not. Amnesty is wiping the slate clean and not paying any penalty for having done something wrong.”

But Luis Pozzollo, a naturalized citizen from Uruguay, said the immigration bill is “plain amnesty” because it provides benefits for illegals such as in-state tuition, does not help stem illegal immigration and provides no efficient border security.

“Coming illegally to a country and breaking every law you can, misusing and abusing all the benefits in America, is not the way to get citizenship or a green card,” said Mr. Pozzollo, a safety and operations supervisor at an auto plant. “Citizenship for immigrants is a privilege, not a handout.”

Mr. Pozzollo arrived in Lexington, Ky., in 2003 on a work visa and waited several years to apply for his green card and then for citizenship. He was naturalized last year.

Mr. Pozzollo is involved in several organizations that “support legal immigration and oppose illegal immigration.”

By considering amnesty for illegals, Congress will be taking away chances from qualified applicants and giving them to people, he said, who “failed to comply with American laws.”

When amnesty is acceptable

For Rachel Villarreal, an administrative assistant in Madera, Calif., the problem with the immigration system is that it encourages people to enter the country illegally to give birth so that their children will be legal citizens. She sympathizes with children and said amnesty should be acceptable for them.

“There has to be a date that they pick and stick to, so if you’ve been here 15, 12 years, those [get to stay] and the ones after that [don’t],” said Ms. Villarreal, whose elder siblings were born in Mexico. “But they need to stay firm with that date and not have to deal with the same situation 20 years from now.”

Other immigrants who have come to the country legally are more open to the proposed overhaul.

Michael Phillips, a pastor from Canada living in Sacramento, Calif., said amnesty would make illegal immigrants “a part of the system” and require them to abide by American laws.

Mr. Phillips was able to obtain green cards for his family of six fairly quickly when they moved from Vancouver in 1989 because another family of six happened to drop out of the waiting list. The pastor said he knows many people who are undocumented and has no problem with giving them legal status.

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