Expectation of a major overhaul of the country’s immigration system over the coming weeks by President Barack Obama has been generating intense interest across San Diego County. The issue is being followed closely by everyone from hotel groups to the farm industry to the high-tech sector to the immigrant advocacy community.

Reports last week that five million immigrants currently living without documents in the United States would receive protection under the administration’s measures has been raising hopes of some and stirring criticism by others — both at the national and local levels.

How ever it finally plays out, many San Diegans stand to be affected. Of California’s unauthorized population of about two million, an estimated 180,000 people — a number greater than the population of Escondido— are living in the county without documents, according to a report last year by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Only two other counties in the state have larger unauthorized populations: Los Angeles County, with 900,000 and Orange County, with nearly 300,000.

The changes are “going to be a tremendous help, because there are a lot of people who have no criminal record, pay their taxes and have U.S.-born children,” said Anna Hysell, an immigration attorney in Escondido.

But Pete Nuñez, a former U.S. Attorney in San Diego, said “anything that anyone does that provides a benefit of any kind to illegal aliens provides even more incentives for more people to come illegally.”

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