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L.A. Town Hall Meeting Exposes Deep Rift on Immigration Overhaul

Location: Washington, DC

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said Saturday that she is pessimistic about the prospects for a broad overhaul of the nation's immigration system in the House of Representatives.

"I am not optimistic that comprehensive immigration reform is going to be brought up in the House of Representatives any time soon," said Bass, a member of the Judiciary Committee, which is hearing most of the immigration bills. "The bills making their way through the House I would not want to see go anywhere -- they are very onerous; there is no pathway to citizenship in the bills."

Immigration reform legislation, which has cleared the Senate but is being debated in the House, was highlighted in the news in recent days because of a controversial statement made by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who said most children who are in the country illegally are marijuana traffickers, not valedictorians. Politicians on both sides of the aisle denounced his statements, including top leaders of the Republican Party.

Bass said she thinks that the Republicans who denounced King's statements share many of his positions but express them differently.

"There is the crude and there is the sophisticated," she said. "At the end of the day, I think both opinions are pretty much the same in terms of the disrespectful viewpoint of immigrants."

Bass made the remarks shortly before she held a two-hour town hall on the issue at the California Science Center. The congresswoman outlined the legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year, which included a pathway to citizenship along with stricter border enforcement. She asked those who support the measure to urge House Speaker John Boehner to allow the matter to come up for a vote in the House, and to contact the 15 Republican Congress members from California, several of whom are believed to be open to considering supporting immigration reform.

About 300 people attended the meeting, and despite Los Angeles' deeply liberal bent, the crowd was sharply divided over what should be done with the millions of people who are living in this country illegally.

Diana Ramos, 20, said her parents came to the country illegally. She said her older sister and younger brother were born here, but she was born when the family returned to Mexico for a year. Crying, the community college student said she is terrified at the prospect of her family being torn apart.

"It is wrong to separate me from my sister, who has been my role model. It is wrong to separate me from my brother, who has been my motivation. It is wrong to separate me from my mother and father, the soul and the core of my family," she said. "Immigration reform is not about politics but rather a human rights issue. It is time for Congress to give us a vote on the bill with a pathway to citizenship that keeps our families together."

Several spoke out against a pathway to legalization, saying it would reward those who broke the law by entering the country illegally. Others pointed to the economy and unemployment and argued that the job prospects of Americans -- particularly African Americans -- would be harmed.

Keith Hardiner, 57, said he is the descendant of slaves.

"They were separated from their families, but we had to fight and struggle," said the Silver Lake resident. "And now I feel like we are being set back and the country is being kind of stolen from us."

One man said that Bass and other politicians could be arrested by any American for failing to uphold the Constitution.

"Are you going to do a citizens' arrest?" Bass asked, and her supporters in the crowd chuckled. "Do I get read my rights?"

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