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NEW YORK (AP) Mayor Michael Bloomberg, kicking off a weekend of events dedicated to America's immigration heritage, said Friday that now is the time for immigration reform.

Bloomberg told a bipartisan delegation of more than 70 political and community leaders from across the country that America needs a modern immigration system that "welcomes the entrepreneurs and the hard workers that will grow our nation's economy."

The independent mayor made the remarks at Gracie Mansion during the Becoming America Congressional Pilgrimage, a three-day event organized by the nonprofit Faith & Politics Institute. Attendees include Democratic Reps. Joseph Crowley, of New York, and Mario Diaz-Balart, of Florida.

Bloomberg said almost half of New York City's small business owners are immigrants.

"Immigrants really are the key to the future of New York and to the prosperity of our nation," he said.

The forum will convene at various historical sites across the city, including Ellis Island, the Sept. 11 memorial and the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

At a naturalization ceremony for new citizens on Friday, Crowley talked about how his grandfather came from Ireland in 1912.

"You have sacrificed, you have struggled, you have persisted," he said. "Each of you has a story of how hard it has been to get here today."

Diaz-Balart told the group that they are now as American as "any of the Founding Fathers."

"You came here to give your families hope and a brighter tomorrow," he said. "This is a land created by immigrants, by people just like you, with aspirations."