Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday June 14th, 2013, 11:17am

Poll: Illinoisans Overwhelmingly Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

A new state poll released by Public Policy Polling Thursday shows that 78 percent of likely Illinois voters strongly or somewhat support the bipartisan, immigration reform legislation currently being debated in the U.S. Senate.

The survey of 502 likely Illinois voters also shows that 75 percent strongly or somewhat support a bill that includes a tough, but fair pathway to citizenship.

“It’s clear that the public is demanding action on comprehensive reform,” said Dave Bender, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois, on a conference call with reporters Thursday regarding the poll.

The public wants to see both Democrats and Republicans working hand-in-hand to “fix this decades-long problem,” said Bender, who is also the co-chair of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition.

The Senate began debate this week on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act Of 2013, SB 744.

The U.S. Senate’s Gang of Eight, which includes Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), drafted the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill, which would create a pathway to citizenship for America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

"Here in Illinois, we will not see our economy fully bounce back until a meaningful solution to this crisis is solved,” Bender added.

Of those surveyed, 61 percent said they are more likely to vote for an elected official who supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. 

And 87 percent said it was very or somewhat important that the United States fix its immigration system this year.

Twenty-eight percent of the people surveyed were Republicans, 41 percent Democrats, and 32 percent identified as Independents. Of the survey's participants, 76 percent were white, 10 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic and 4 percent classified as other.

The poll was sponsored by the Alliance for Citizenship, Partnership for a New American Economy, and Republicans for Immigration Reform. The telephone polling was conducted from June 2 through June 10. The margin of error is less than plus or minus 5 percent. 

Under the proposed legislation from the Gang of Eight, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements would come with a five- to 10-year wait period. Undocumented immigrants would also have to pay a penalty and pass a criminal background check, among other provisions, before they can be eligible for citizenship.

The pathway to citizenship, however, is dependent upon the federal government passing several border security measures within a 10-year period.

But how to effectively secure the borders is one of the key sticking points so far in the debate.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 57-43 to table a border security amendment to the bill.

The rejected amendment, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would have barred conditional legal immigrant status until after the Department of Homeland Security had the borders secured for a six-month period.

Another proposed amendment by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) calls for four triggers to be engaged before undocumented immigrants could begin to seek a pathway to citizenship. Those triggers a 90 percent apprehension rate at the southern U.S. border and that 100 percent of the border be monitored, among other provisions.

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he hopes an alternative border security proposal will emerge that “satisfies some of the concerns without killing the bill.”

“It’s not possible for us to support his amendment as it is presently written because it is a poison pill,” McCain said.

The comprehensive immigration bill does not yet have the votes it needs to pass. And whether or not the Cornyn amendment is approved could be a determining factor for how some Republicans may vote for the larger bill, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).

“If [Democrats] had 60 votes to pass the bill out of the Senate, they probably wouldn’t be talking to me,” Cornyn said. “But they are, which tells me that they view this as a way to get the kind of support out of the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, that would give it some momentum and increase the likelihood of the bill passing in the House.”

The Gang of Eight does not have an alternative to the Cornyn amendment yet, but U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he is working on one, Politico reported.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen Chicago religious and business leaders signed a letter in support of comprehensive immigration reform Wednesday, addressing the message to the Illinois congressional delegation and all people of faith across Illinois. The letter urges Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year.

“We believe in a government that promotes democracy and human rights,” said Jane Charney, assistant director of the American Jewish Committee of Chicago, which signed on to the letter. “We believe the rights of one can only be secure when the rights of everybody else are secure as well.”

She said the coalition of faith and business leaders see today’s immigration crisis as the nation's 21st century human rights crisis.

The leaders specifically called on Kirk to support the bipartisan, immigration reform bill, which was filed in April.

On Tuesday, Kirk was one of 15 senators who voted against starting discussion in the Senate on the bill, because he said the current plan does not meet his standards regarding border security. Kirk said passage of the Cornyn amendment "opens the door" to him backing immigration reform.

“Hopefully,  Senator Kirk will see and understand the need for immigration reform and change his mind,” Charney said. “An overwhelming majority of members in the Senate support at least the effort to debate the bill and consider it, so we’re hopeful Senator Kirk will at least consider debating it and participate in the exchange of ideas and hopefully pass immigration reform.”

Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and chair of the Republicans for Immigration Reform said on Thursday’s conference call that he was surprised by Kirk’s vote because immigration reform is a “pro-economic growth” issue.

“That’s what the Republican Party is all about,” he explained.

Bender said his group and others will attempt to have personal and direct meetings with Kirk again "to ask him [to] exactly spell it out for us as to what exactly are his concerns, and we'll try to address those concerns."

"We have a lot of people on our business coaltion here that have very good, close relationships with him, and we'll just keep trying," he said.

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