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By Drew Wilson

An immigration reform group founded by tech billionaires is launching in Florida to push for common sense economic reform and a pathway to citizenship for people in the United States illegally.

FWD.us, founded by Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates among others, is gathering a coalition of business, community and faith leaders to push for immigration reform.

The group favors equipping law enforcement with the tools necessary to stem further illegal immigrants from coming into the US so they can focus on more dangerous criminals and security threats.

The group also wants an overhaul for the legal immigration system so top-flight talent can come to the states and make the country more competitive in the global market.

FWD.us is also looking for lawmakers to create a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants in the country without a criminal history. Their plan would give immigrants who pass a criminal background check, pay fines and go through a probationary period the opportunity to apply for full citizenship years down the line.

About 3.7 million Floridians were born outside the U.S. and the population of foreign-born Floridians shot up nearly 39 percent between 2000 and 2010. FWD.us said immigrant business owners in Florida generated 24% of all net business income and that legal status for immigrant workers could boost the state’s tax rolls by $1.13 billion and add 97,000 new jobs.

Among the announced members of the Florida coalition are Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida, Julio Fuentes, president & CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Wes Lathrop, Executive Director of Faith in Florida.

“As someone who works in higher education, I have the privilege of working firsthand with some of the brightest minds in our state, but, unfortunately, our immigration system is holding back some of the best and brightest from fully contributing to our economy,” said Moore. “Modernizing our high-skilled visa program alone would create an estimated 18,100 new jobs in Florida by 2020, add almost $9 billion in Gross State Product, and could increase personal income by $8.7 million.”

Fuentes added that the current immigration system “has proven to harm rather than help the state of Florida. We need to establish a balance between economic prosperity and border security, which is why it is of utmost importance to pass commonsense immigration reform while maintain our country’s security.”

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