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Third House Republican signs on to sweeping immigration bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - David Valadao of California on Wednesday became the third Republican in the House of Representatives to join Democrats in backing a sweeping immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Valadao, who represents a district where more than 70 percent of residents are Hispanic, joins fellow Republicans Jeff Denham of California and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida in supporting the plan introduced by House Democrats.

The immigration bill still has little hope of success in the Republican-controlled House, where most Republicans strongly oppose any plan that would give millions of undocumented immigrants a potential path to U.S. citizenship.

But Valadao said he hoped to show House Republican leaders, who have rejected taking up a comprehensive Senate immigration bill, that there is support in the party for taking up the issue this year.

"Addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait. I am serious about making real progress and will remain committed to doing whatever it takes to repair our broken immigration system," Valadao said in a statement.

Valadao and Denham represent more moderate, heavily Hispanic districts in California and both could face difficult re-election challenges from Democrats in 2014.

The House immigration bill is similar to the plan passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate earlier this year. But House Republican leaders have said that if they take up immigration at all it will be through a series of smaller bills on proposals like stronger border security and employment verification measures.

Time is running out to act, however, and fiscal issues could knock immigration reform off the agenda again early next year, leaving the issue in doubt.

President Barack Obama held a White House event last week to rejuvenate the drive for an overhaul of immigration laws. House Speaker John Boehner said he was "hopeful" that immigration would be addressed this year but gave no specifics.

(Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Ken Wills)

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