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Immigration debate heated at Kan. lawmaker's forum

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A pastor who works with immigrants was shouted down during a congressional town hall meeting hosted by Kansas Republican Lynn Jenkins when he suggested that people in the U.S. illegally should be treated with compassion.

Jenkins, who represents the 2nd District of eastern Kansas, discussed her support Wednesday for work by GOP leaders in the U.S. House to draft an alternative to a bipartisan Senate proposal offering a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants.

About 100 people attended her town hall meeting in a Topeka hotel ballroom, and the discussion about immigration grew heated, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1a8yEyt).

The Rev. Jason Schoff, director of Latino outreach for Mission Adelante, a Kansas City, Kan., church and mission group assisting immigrants, told Jenkins that he's concerned "about the human condition" in immigration. He asked Jenkins whether she'd support halting deportations of immigrants in the country illegally if they haven't committed felonies.

"We've got to secure the borders, but we've also got to make sure that somehow we're taking care of those that are humans and immigrants here and try to give them a way to not fear deportation," Schoff said. "A lot of our businesses need them."

As he spoke, grumbling turned to shouts of "They're illegal," and, "They broke the law when they crossed the border." One person yelled for Schoff to sit down.

The bipartisan Senate immigration proposal includes 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants without legal residency who have clean criminal records and pay fines.

"I'm for immigration if it's done legally, but for people who broke the law, I'm not for amnesty," Jenkins said, receiving applause.

Another audience member, Renee Slinkard, of Parker, strongly urged Jenkins to reject the Senate proposal, calling it "horrible."

"Close the borders, and secure them," she said.

But other audience members said the immigration system is outdated and doesn't allow the U.S. to easily attract highly skilled workers in science and technology or unskilled, low-paid labor for large agriculture operations.

"I'm a little frustrated by the lack of a sense of compassion," Schoff said after the town hall meeting.