BOYLE HEIGHTS (CBS) — A bill moving through the California Legislature is heating up the hot button issue of immigration reform.

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AB 1544, also known as the Work Permit Bill, would make tens of thousands of illegal immigrants — who are already working in the food service or agricultural industry — eligible to receive a work permit and legal status.

Immigration rights activist Javier Rodriguez tells CBS2/KCAL9 Political Reporter Dave Bryan that it’s an important step towards legalization rather than deportation.

“A majority of Republicans as well as a huge majority of Democrats and independent people say legalization is the avenue, not the deportation. They’re not about to deport 12 million people,” Rodriguez said.

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AB 1544 would require federal authorization before the law could be implemented, as well as, a state report concluding that there aren’t enough legal workers who are willing or able to fill those respective jobs.

Critics charge — at a time when much of California is still facing double-digit unemployment — it’s the wrong bill at the wrong time.

“It makes very little sense for the Legislature to be passing laws allowing illegal aliens to take jobs in California when there’s so many Californians who are out of work right now,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for Immigration Reform. “It just defies any sort of logic that they would be doing things to harm unemployed Californians at this time.”

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The bill has only passed one committee in the State Assembly and has a long way to go before it could become law.