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Immigrant rights group want reform to focus on families

Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, speaks at a news conference Monday outside the State Capitol. She said national immigration reform must include keeping families together and providing a pathway to citizenship. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Julia Shumway)

PHOENIX -- Arizona immigrant rights groups announced Monday that they are joining a national push to focus immigration reform on keeping undocumented families together.

At a news conference outside the State Capitol, leaders said the immigration overhaul proposed by a bipartisan group of eight senators, including Arizona's John McCain and Jeff Flake, is too focused on border security.

Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, said reform must include keeping families together as well as providing a pathway to citizenship.

"Just imagine your parent, your grandparent, your child being torn away from you just because they don't have a piece of paper," she said.

The news conference brought together representatives of several other groups as well as Democratic elected leaders including U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, and relatives of deported illegal immigrants.

With President Barack Obama set to announce his vision for immigration reform on Tuesday, speakers said they were happy that politicians in Washington are taking up the issue.

"For the last 10 years, the immigration debate has been here at the Capitol," said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. "It's time to take it to the halls of Congress."

Leaders said they were organizing under the national Fair Immigration Reform Movement, a network of grassroots advocacy groups highlighting the effect of immigration policies on families.

Grijalva said the immigration overhaul proposed by the eight senators "broke ice," as the last substantial national immigration reform took place in 1986.

But he said the plan focuses heavily on border security and needs a clearer timeline and more focus on unifying families separated by deportation.

"Being able to debate particulars is progress," he said.

The senators' plan would provide a pathway to citizenship for individuals already in the country.

It also would increase the number of Border Patrol agents, add surveillance at the border and track every person who enters the U.S. on a temporary visa to ensure he or she leaves when required.

Maya Castillo, president of the Pima County chapter of the Service Employees International Union, said immigration reform would benefit the economy, including boosting state tax revenues.

"It just makes common sense," she said.

Jose Garcia Ramirez, 11, said he wants U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to return his father, an illegal immigrant apprehended outside his Phoenix home recently and slated for deportation.

"I'm feeling sad and my sisters were sad," said Jose, who was born in the U.S. "I've been trying my best to help Dad get out and I've been telling ICE to let him go."

As she applies for the federal deferred action program for young illegal immigrants, Arizona State University student Monika Mlynarska said she is awaiting the final deportation hearing for her mother, who brought her from Poland as a child.

"I feel American, and I don't know what I'd do here without my mom," Mlynarska said.

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