State and local officials, along with a group of advocates, are pushing their national leaders and members of Congress to make 2010 the year it tackles comprehensive immigration reform.

Gathered at the state Capitol last week a coalition of groups united by Reform Immigration for America called on Congress to help the nation’s 12 million undocumented workers find a path to citizenship and the American dream. 

“In this country we have 12 million people who can’t fully engage in the American dream,” Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez said Friday. “Too often when individuals who are not American citizens are taken advantage of and our economy suffers.”

“If we’re going to have a recovery in this country it has to include everybody,” Perez added. “We are calling on Congress to take immediate action to fix a system that’s broken to make sure immigration reform enables these individuals to be fully part of the economy and fully part of the American dream…Instead of having them hide from being full neighbors in our city.”

By creating a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the country it would add $1.5 billion to the economy in a single year, Rep. Kelvin Roldan, D-Hartford, said. “This is real money we’re talking about,” he said.

Right now, two-thirds of the undocumented contribute $7 billion annually to social security through their payroll taxes that go unclaimed, Talia Lopez, naturalized citizen with a masters in economics, said.

“The overall net economic benefit of their presence needs to be understood to tackle problem in objective manner,“ Lopez said. “Trying to force people out is not viable.”

“Integrate those people into economy as taxpayers, consumers, and voters,” Lopez said. “We can not wait.”

Peter Goselin, coordinator for Connecticut Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said the organization has consistently supported comprehensive immigration reform as a “simple matter of justice.”

“It’s a system that hunts people down who want to work, jails people who want freedom, break up families, and turns decent human beings into permanent refugees in an underground economy that subjects them to the worst kind of exploitation,” Goselin said.

“We believe in a generation from now the current immigration system will be regarded with the same sense of national shame as we now view segregated washrooms, lunch counters, and schools.”

Goselin is especially concerned about the working conditions for many of these workers in Connecticut, who have no choice but to take whatever work they can get. The workers “most likely will never complain no matter how they are abused or cheated out of fear of federal immigration authorities,” he said.

“The indirect result: employers who obey the law are forced to lower wages so they can compete with the predators,” Goselin said.

When asked what exactly the group meant when it called for “comprehensive immigration reform,” Goselin said he’s not sure everybody in the room would agree on every single aspect of an ideal bill.

“I think there are some genuine disagreements,“ Goselin said. “I think it’s really important that we start to have a statewide and a national dialogue about what real immigration reform should look like.”

He said there is one thing everybody does seem to agree on and that’s the notion that “we’re going to deport 12 million people instead of allow them to contribute to the economy in a meaningful way.”

In his opinion it’s absurd to think the country can deport 12 million people. He said it’s also absurd to think that it’s in the nation’s best interest.

“This is a national issue that has local repercussions all over the country,” Celina Barrios Ponce, the northeast regional organizer for Reform Immigration for America, said. She said this week is a week of action for the members of the coalition to help bring attention to the issue they would like to see resolved in 2010.

One of the things she often hears people say in opposition to reform is “people need to get in line.”

“There is no line for people to get into,” Ponce said. “Especially if you’re not a high-skilled immigrant there aren’t any Visas for you.”