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N.C., Congress Face Tough Issues Over Illegal Immigrant Laws

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Do you send millions of illegal immigrants back home or offer them temporary immunity to work? President George W. Bush and North Carolina are caught in the middle.

Federal authorities recently rounded up suspected illegal immigrants at security-sensitive locations like Research Triangle Park, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base or Fort Bragg. The high profile arrests make up only a tiny fraction of the estimated 300,000 to 600,000 undocumented people living in North Carolina.

"North Carolina has become a gateway," said Bill Peaslee, of the state Republican party.

Reflecting the pulse of its party, Republicans collected more than 2,800 petition signatures at the State Fair from people who want the federal government to better enforce immigration laws.

"Whether they're taking jobs away from our citizens. There's also the question of whether illegal immigrants are getting benefits that would otherwise go to North Carolina citizens," he said.

Peaslee will not openly criticize President Bush, but the president's proposal to provide temporary work visas to illegal immigrants has riled many fellow Republicans.

Phil Kirk, of the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, is calling for middle ground, but the immigration debate in North Carolina is rarely known for compromise.

"It does bother me from a philosophical standpoint that we would do anything to reward people who had come into the country illegally, but with my business hat on, I've got to say that it would probably delay or possibly hold back our economy," he said.

North Carolina congressmen have been equally split on the issue. Republican Walter Jones said it is wrong to reward people who break the law while Democrat David Price doubts immigrants will report if they know they will be deported later.


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