While the U.S. Senate was voting in favor of an immigration reform package that could provide a pathway to citizenship for America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, supporters of the legislation were targeting Illinois Republican leaders at a rally in downtown Chicago Thursday.
More than 100 immigration reform advocates at Thursday’s rally vowed to apply pressure on U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R, IL-6), who serves as the House chief deputy whip, and Illinois GOP Party Chairman Jack Dorgan, to demand their support of comprehensive immigration reform.
“It’s political suicide if they don’t support immigration reform,” said Yesenia Sanchez, executive director of the West Suburban Action Project (Proyecto de Accion de los Suburbios del Oeste, PASO). “It would not be a very smart decision to stand against this bill. The time is now for commonsense immigration reform and elections are coming up. Immigrants and their allies vote, too.”
Cheers resonated throughout the crowd, which rallied at Illinois GOP headquarters, at 55 West Monroe St., when details of the Senate vote were announced.
“I’m happy the bill passed, but we now need to call on Republicans to support this bill and ensure that our broken immigration system is once and for all fixed,” said Sanchez.
Drafted by a bipartisan group of senators called the Gang of Eight, which includes U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the immigration reform legislation provides a pathway to citizenship via a five or 10-year wait before undocumented immigrants can file for a green card. Applicants must pay $2,000 in fines, fulfill the requirement of having a job and pass a background check. While waiting for a green card, or legal permanent resident status, applicants are labeled a “registered provisional immigrant” (RPI). After an additional three year-wait, they would be able to apply for citizenship.
“Immigrant communities are looking for solutions, not continued excuses from conservative members who don’t recognize what we need,” said Sanchez, who applauded when she learned U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) supported the legislation.
Kirk has, for weeks, been a target of immigrant rights’ activists. Earlier this month he voted against discussion of the immigration reform package, saying that stronger border enforcement would need to be implemented before he could vote “yes” on the bill.
To the dismay of several demonstrators on Thursday, the Corker-Hoeven amendment, which was approved last week, does just that.
“We’re tired of conservative legislators using the border as an excuse to not take a commonsense position on immigration reform,” said Sanchez. “Our border is the strongest it has ever been, and this excuse is no longer valid. The future of their party is reliant upon their support for immigration reform.”
Under the amendment, before any green card can be issued through the immigration reform bill, a series of border strengthening thresholds must first be met. The plan calls for an increase of the number of border enforcement agents, from 20,000 to 40,000, and requires the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the southern border. If the immigration reform bill passes with the amendment, approximately $40 billion will be spent on reinforcing America’s borders over ten years.
“This is a great moment, but we are only halfway to the finish line,” said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D, IL-4), in a statement following the Senate’s vote Thursday. “I believe that a bipartisan approach in the House is the only approach that will solve the political problem facing the Republican Party -- that their positions on immigration make them look anti-immigrant and anti-Latino. House Republicans cannot change this perception significantly unless they work with House Democrats to reach a bipartisan solution.”
Gutiérrez added that the “clock is ticking” for “the 1,400 people deported every day we fail to enact immigration reform."
Under the Obama administration, deportations have reached record-breaking highs. More than 400,000 people were deported during fiscal year 2012, an increase of 3 percent from 2011. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), 55 percent of the people deported were convicted criminals.
In a statement, President Barack Obama warned the bill’s supporters to "keep a watchful eye" as opponents in the U.S. House will likely “try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart.”
"The bipartisan bill that passed today was a compromise. By definition, nobody got everything they wanted. Not Democrats. Not Republicans. Not me," Obama said. "But the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I - and many others - have repeatedly laid out."
Meanwhile, Jennifer Velazquez, a community organizer with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), hasn’t seen her father since January 2012 when he was deported back to Mexico.
“If immigration reform passes, my family could be reunited again,” said Velazquez, 19, adding that her father lived in Chicago for 18 years before he was deported.
Without her father’s income, Velazquez said the weight of providing for her three younger siblings and mother, who has lived in America for more than 20 years, but is also undocumented, rests solely on her shoulders. She was born in the U.S. and thus, is a citizen.
“Not only could my father apply for citizenship if comprehensive immigration reform is passed, but maybe my mom could become a citizen, too,” she said. “Then I might have less responsibilities, and could focus on school.”
Here’s more from Velazquez, who helped organize Thursday’s rally:
The LSNA and PASO joined forces with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) to host Thursday’s rally. Other contributing organizations include The Resurrection Project (TRP), the Albany Park Neighborhood Council (APNC) and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP).
“We are here to let Representative Roskam, and other Republicans, know, they cannot keep ignoring the power of the immigrant vote,” said Mayra Sarabia, a community organizer with SWOP. “They must support comprehensive immigration reform now.”
Sarabia, who traveled to America from Mexico more than two decades ago, added that she has two U.S.-born children that will be of voting age come the 2016 presidential election, and one of her daughters will be voting in the 2014 congressional races.
The U.S. House is comprised of 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats, leaving many, including Sarabia, to question whether the lower chamber is poised to support immigration reform.
According to House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH-8), who spoke with reporters moments before the Senate vote, "the House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes." Instead, he says the chamber is working on its own immigration reform bill.
Sarabia chanted during Thursday’s rally that the GOP should “remember November.” She, and several other organizers, encouraged rally participants to call Roskam's office every day and demand his support.
“My children will remember the legislators who helped her mother live a life of dignity,” she said. “They will remember Republicans’ vote for comprehensive immigration reform.”