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CNN host, La Raza leader to debate immigration
Sergio Bustos
Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Southwest border lawmakers and community leaders will hold their annual Border Issues conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to draw attention to a region often overlooked by Capitol Hill's powerbrokers.

The agenda for this year's conference, sponsored by the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, covers a range of topics including the environment, health care, energy and water.

But border security and illegal immigration are expected to dominate the daylong event. Organizers have invited CNN's Lou Dobbs and Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, to debate immigration.

Dobbs, who hosts "Lou Dobbs Tonight," regularly has railed against illegal immigration with his ongoing series, "Broken Borders."

On his March 3 show, Dobbs told a guest he was not opposed to immigration.

"I want to be very clear," he said. "I'm anti-illegal immigration."

Murgia's organization has strongly advocated legislation that would allow the country's 8 million to 10 million undocumented immigrants to earn legal status.

"It should be very lively debate," said Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, who hosts the annual conference along with the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce. He will moderate the illegal immigration discussion.

Reyes also hopes to raise awareness in Congress of the many other problems plaguing the border. He plans to re-introduce two bills that would improve health-care services in border communities and improve the flow of people and goods across the border.

The Border Economic Recovery Act would give hospitals $250 million to provide emergency care to illegal immigrants, $25 million for the prevention of tuberculosis and $8 million to the Border Health Commission.

The Secure Borders Act would create a $1 billion infrastructure investment fund to help repair and build bridges, roadways and other transportation projects to ease the flow of traffic across the border.

It also would increase the number of Border Patrol agents and deploy technology to monitor the 2,000-mile border 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Neither bill has garnered enough support to pass Congress in previous sessions.

The Border Issues conference is expected to attract more than 300 people including Bush administration officials, Mexican government officials, lawmakers and top congressional aides.