BELLEVUE - Immigration reform took center stage at a listening session held Friday by Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson's staff.
A few dozen people turned out in Bellevue to ask questions and express their views on the proposed legislation.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would offer millions of illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship.
The measure now heads to the full Senate. But before Senator Johnson casts his vote, he and his staff are listening to constituents.
One issue that divided people at Friday's event was border security.
"They don't even have a plan for closing the border. That has to happen first. The border has to be closed so new people don't come in under the circumstances they're coming in today," said one man who attended.
"The primary issue is not the border, but it's dealing with the 11 to 12 million people that are undocumented that are here. Most of them are here as economic refugees," said Michael Slattery of Maribel.
Others expressed concern about the J1 visa used for work-and-study based exchange visitor programs. Johnson's staff said it would essentially be eliminated if the bill passes.
"We try to provide some opportunities for them in addition to work so they learn something about our community and it has been good for us individually and as a business," said Charles Schroeder, owner of Schroeder's Flowers.
Some people also talked about the impact of undocumented laborers.
"They're low wage workers who help drive down the wages and the economy. And they are already here collecting benefits, they collect food stamps, they collect medical assistance," said Norman Thurber of Green Bay.
Others said immigrants help build the U.S.
"If we don't let other people come in with full rights, this country will just end up being a second class country," said Nancy Slattery of Maribel.
Senator Johnson did not attend the listening session. He later told FOX 11 by phone he couldn't be at every event, and is currently taking a few days off.
Johnson said he'd like to see an immigration bill passed, but added some provisions must be strengthened before it's sent to the House.
"We absolutely must secure the border. We also have to be, I think, very mindful of the fact that we're also running huge deficits. We've made promises to Americans that we're not able to pay for currently. We can't be offering benefits to people that are here illegally," said Johnson, R-Wisconsin.
Friday's listening session was one of 16 in the state hosted by Senator Johnson or his staff.
The Senate is expected to take up immigration reform starting the week of June 10th.
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