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Metro Hispanic Leaders Cautiously Optimistic About Immigration Reform Plan

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- President Barack Obama is calling for a bipartisan overhaul of U.S. immigration policy - that includes a safe path for those illegal immigrants already in the country to become legal citizens.

"We've gotta lay out a path, a process that includes passing a background check, paying taxes, paying a penalty, learning English, and then going to the back of the line behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally," said President Obama on Tuesday.

Community leaders estimate that there are approximately 40,000 undocumented workers here in the metro. At the Westside Community Action Network, undocumented workers gather daily in hopes of being hired as a day laborer. Although none of the men would talk to FOX 4 on camera about immigration reform, Westside CAN director Lynda Callon says that she is cautiously optimistic about immigration reform.

"To come out of the shadows to be able to work, to be able to pay taxes to be able to buy a car and drive safely, they want what everybody else wants," said Callon.

The proposal, created by a group of eight senators - four Democratic and four Republican - may be driven in part by the results of the November elections. Latino voters overwhelmingly supported President Obama, and some Hispanic leaders say it's because restrictive immigration policies affect too many Hispanic families.

"The immigrant values are a little bit more in line with the Republican Party," said Bernardo Ramirez of the Hispanic Economic Development Corporation. "I think the Republicans at this point are kind of saying, 'If that's true, the values we're aligned with, why aren't they voting for us?' I think some of these things are coming up like comprehensive immigration reform. It's an obvious thing for them."

Immigrants with criminal records, or those who pose a potential threat terror threat, would be subject to deportation. The Senate plan would also require the border with Mexico to be deemed secure before illegal immigrants in the U.S. are granted citizenship.

Ramirez also says that he believes granting legal status to illegal immigrants will help ease the burden on the nation's health care system, as more would be able to qualify for benefits including health insurance - and make fewer trips to the emergency room for care.

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