Durham, N.C. — Comprehensive immigration reform was at the center of a community discussion in Durham Sunday afternoon.
Hundreds of immigrants joined local and state leaders, as well as members of North Carolina's congressional delegation – Democratic Reps. David Price and G.K. Butterfield – at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Durham for dialog on the matter.
The meeting came as immigration legislation remains stalled in the GOP-led U.S. House of Representatives after the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a sweeping bill in June with billions of dollars for border security and a path to citizenship for millions. Lawmakers returned to Washington this week after a five-week summer recess with no clear way forward on the issue.
"It is unreasonable and unthinkable to believe that we're going to deport 11 or 12 million people back to their country of origin," Butterfield said. "It is senseless. It is unworkable."
But it's something Marlon Aguirre, has seen.
Aguirre moved to Durham from Ecuador eight years ago and has since become a U.S. citizen, but he has friends who were deported and separated from family members who are still in the country.
"I would like for the U.S. government to have a new law where they can give some options to people who have come here for a better life," he said.
Supporters of immigration reform say stories like that are why events like Sunday's are important.
Price said enforcement of immigration laws alone isn't enough and that immigrants need easier access to healthcare and better chances for college, jobs and citizenship in general.
"If people who have been here a while and have shown that they can live and work among us, then there should be a path to legal status for them," he said.
According to, the nonprofit, North Carolina Latino Coalition, there are more than 800,000 Latinos living in North Carolina – an increase of 25 percent over the past 20 years.
The coalition says immigration is an economic issue and that North Carolina's economy needs immigration reform.
Rep. Renee Ellmers could not be reached for comment Sunday afternoon but said last month after a meeting in Dunn that she supports "common-sense" immigration policies and reform that focus on national security and explore pathways to legal status.
"I remain convinced that our first priority is to enforce the law and protect our borders so that we know who is entering our country," she said in an Aug. 22 statement.
"At the same time, we need to address the millions of people who are already in this country and formulate a process for them to earn legal work status," she added. "Immigration reform is essential to building a healthy, growing American economy."