Latino elected officials in Illinois had a clear message for "anti-immigrant" U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R, IL-6) at a Chicago press conference Wednesday: listen to the voters and bring immigration reform legislation up for a vote in the House.
Last Wednesday, House Democrats introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill that is nearly identical to the bipartisan immigration reform package the Senate passed in June. Leaders of the GOP-led House, however, appear to be ignoring the measure, which would also create a pathway to citizenship for the nation's more than 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Those at Wednesday's gathering said Roskam, Illinois' top House Republican and the chamber's chief deputy whip, has the power to help advance the measure to the floor for a vote, but instead, he's holding immigration reform hostage.
"We have an Illinoisan (who) is becoming an obstacle in making sure that our immigrant brothers and sisters get a fair chance, and that’s got to stop," said Chicago Ald. Ray Suarez (31st). "If (Roskam) doesn’t wake up, I believe in November, [the] next election, the Latino community and the Asian community are not going to be supporting this gentleman."
Despite the growing immigrant population in Roskam's northeastern Illinois district, the congressman's voting record shows that he has been an "enemy" on the issue of immigration reform, said Ald. Danny Solis (25th).
"He is anti-immigrant, anti-family, anti-Asian, anti-women," the alderman continued. "I stand on that based on his record. We will not forget his record."
Back in 2010, Roskam voted against the DREAM Act, which would have provided conditional permanent residency to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors. This year, the congressman supported an amendment to the House's 2014 Department of Homeland Security spending bill to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, which defers deportation for two years for undocumented immigrants that came to the country at a young age.
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) has repeatedly called Roskam out for being "out of touch" with the 85 percent of Illinois voters who support a pathway to citizenship. The state's business community is also largely in support of immigration reform.
"Peter Roskam does not need to be in government," added Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th). "He is not our friend. He is not a friend of immigration. That needs to be told to everyone in the state of Illinois."
Eddie Garcia, 34, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who lives in Roskam's district, said he came to America when he was 17 in order to finish school and "fulfill his dreams."
"Now I run two successful businesses," he said. "I pay taxes. I invest in real estate. I own my house. I have employed U.S. citizens, and still, I'm undocumented. Congressman Roskam, give us a vote on citizenship. Keep families together. Give me a chance."
Jesus Garcia, Cook County Commissioner for the 7th District, said there are no "logical arguments" that Roskam can use to justify his position on immigration reform.
"If there’s only something else that still lurks there, it can’t be good, but it’s clear that the case for immigration reform now has been made from all corners," Garcia noted.
Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza called on Roskam and other House Republicans to live by the family values they preach, and stop separating families via deportation.
Every day that Roskam and other House Republicans delay the passage of immigration reform legislation, 1,100 people are deported, those at the news conference stressed.
"The Republicans love to talk about how they support family values ... [and] at the same time they're supporting initiatives that separate families, that pull an American citizen child away from their mother or father, sometimes having to send the child with the parents out of the country," Mendoza said. "They were born in the United States. Why should they have to go live someplace else because Peter Roskam doesn’t like the fact that they were born here or that their parents were not born here?"
The federal government may be shut down at the moment, but Congress can still "do the work of the people" and support immigration reform legislation with an eventual pathway to citizenship, Mendoza continued.
"During this government shutdown, at least do something to let us believe that your brains are working to some extent," Mendoza said.
Illinois State Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) posed this question to Roskam: How would he like it if the tables turned on him, and one of his family members faced deportation?
But it wasn't only Roskam and House Republicans the politicians took aim at Wednesday. They said President Barack Obama needs to stop deportations now.
"While the government is on hold, we’re still deporting families," Reboyras said. "That isn’t justice."
If deportation rates continue at their current pace, some 2 million people will have been deported by 2014 under the Obama administration.
And meanwhile, a few organizers with the Immigrant Youth Justice League gathered outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Chicago Field Office Wednesday morning to stand in solidarity with Octavio Nava Cabrera, a Chicago undocumented Mexican immigrant who is currently facing deportation.
Cabrera has been detained in Dodge County, Wisconsin since April. Organizers say ICE has twice denied Cabrera's prosecutorial discretion requests due to his prior deportation in 1997.
"He should qualify for such relief because he has family, including his mother and grandchildren, living in the U.S., and his prior deportation should not be a factor," said Yaxal Sobrevilla with the Immigrant Youth Justice League.
It's typically very difficult for people with a prior deportation to find relief, she explained. Cabrera, however, was granted an extension in his asylum case Wednesday, and his next court date is November 5, Sobrevilla said.
Deportations have to stop whether Congress passes immigration reform legislation or not, she added.
“It’s absolutely necessary that our families are not continuously torn apart,” said Sobrevilla. “So whether there is some type of legislation that happens this year or in a decade, it is necessary that Obama, for example, takes a stand and actually stops deportations.”
A large march and rally in Chicago calling for an immediate end to deportations and comprehensive immigration reform legislation is scheduled for this Saturday. The demonstration will start at Teamster City at 1645 W. Jackson at 12 p.m. on October 12. The march is scheduled to begin 2 p.m. and will travel along Jackson Street to Federal Plaza for a 3 p.m. rally.
Check back with Progress Illinois for our coverage of the event.