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Apr 1, 2013 8:37 PM by Nathan O'Neal

Immigration reform debate heats up nationally, locally

TUCSON - Volunteers and community leaders held rallies throughout the state as well as in the Tucson about the sweeping immigration legislation Congress is weighing.

Big business and labor groups reached a deal last week that would allow up to 200,000 people into the U.S. each year to fill unskilled jobs in restaurants, hotels, construction and retail-- all set to begin in 2015.

After one year, those workers could get permanent status -- a deal that clears the way for an immigration overhaul later this month that has been spearheaded by the so-called "Gang of Eight" senators.

As the immigration debate has ramped up nationally, it has also gained some traction in Southern Arizona, with demonstrations outside McCain and Flake's offices set to push for what they want included in the immigration bill they are working on.

"I want a fair worker program where the people who come in order to work because they truly need jobs, are documented," said Marjorie King, a volunteer with Organizing for Action.

With all eyes on the border, Senator Flake addressed concerns at a luncheon today held by the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"The principle we can't violate with this is to allow somebody who is here in an illegal status to benefit, to jump in front of the line ahead of those who have gone through the legal process," Flake told News 4 Tucson.

Admitting that hashing out the details in the agreed worker program will be especially difficult, including decisions on how many guest workers will be allowed and what their wages will be.

One thing that Flake acknowledges most of his colleagues aggreed on: the Dream Act.

"The dream act was pretty much established... we knew that kids brought here by no fault of their own... shouldn't have as long or arduous a path... as those who brought them here," Flake said.

That's something that resonates with some of the protesters out today.

"I think that we need to bring 11 million families out of the shadow," said Kelley Brooks, who is a school teacher but chose to protest outside Flake's office today.

Yet, despite a partisan Congress, Flake is convinced the "Gang of Eight" will get a bill to pass this year.

"There's a better chance now than ever," Flake said, adding: "I'm bullish that we can do it. We're not going to get every vote on either side of the aisle but hopefully we can get a package that eigher side can support."

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