PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday March 9th, 2015, 2:02pm

Rauner, Illinois GOP Congressmen Call For Vote On Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Progress Illinois provides highlights from Monday's Illinois Business Immigration Coalition forum featuring Gov. Bruce Rauner, Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Illinois Republican Congressmen Bob Dold, Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock, during which the officials called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, federal GOP lawmakers from Illinois and Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year during a Monday morning forum in Chicago, saying such a move is morally right and would be a boon to the U.S. and Illinois economies.

Hosted by the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, the event was attended by local business leaders, immigrant advocates and lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and U.S. Reps. Bob Dold (R-IL,10), Aaron Schock (R-IL,18) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL,16).

The Republican officials and Cupich discussed the benefits of an expanded U.S. work visa program as well as a streamlined path to citizenship for the nation's undocumented immigrants.

"Our country benefits from the toil, the taxes, the purchasing power of a large number of undocumented workers," Cupich said at the discussion, held at St. Ignatius College Prep, 1076 W. Roosevelt Road. "Yet we do not at the same time offer them the protections of law. The moral issue here is that we can't have it both ways. We can't exploit and use these people without honoring their God-given rights."

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform package in June 2013 that would provide a path to citizenship for America's more than 11 million undocumented immigrants while also increasing border security. House Republican leaders have refused to bring the sweeping immigration reform legislation up for a vote, saying they prefer, instead, to tackle the issue in a piecemeal fashion.

Rauner said he is "very troubled" by the House leadership's push for a piecemeal approach.

"We need a comprehensive solution," the governor stressed. "This is not about Democrats or Republicans. This is about America. America is about freedom. It's about opportunity. We've got to make that a reality for everyone."

"My role as governor," Rauner added, "is to make sure everyone here has their chance at the American dream. That's the reason I will invest significantly in our education system. I want world-class schools in every community for every child to be all they can be."

The governor also said he wants to "reallocate the money from the government bureaucracy and into our social services for our immigrant families, for our disadvantaged and for those who are vulnerable and low-income," acknowledging that such an effort "won't come easily."

"But we can get it done this year," Rauner continued. "Then we will have this proper support for the families who are here, who need our support, so they can realize the American dream too."

In introducing Rauner to the crowd, Carmen Velasquez, founder and former executive director of Alivio Medical Center, said the Republican has "become the governor most sensitive to the issues facing immigrant families." 

Specifically, Velasquez applauded Rauner for protecting the Illinois All Kids state health insurance program for low-income children, including those who are undocumented, in his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. She and others also thanked Rauner for not joining a lawsuit recently filed by a group of 26 mostly Republican-run states seeking to stop President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.

Before delivering his remarks, Rauner accepted Velasquez's invitation to attend a follow-up meeting with Illinois Business Immigration Coalition members to discuss budgetary issues and the needs of the immigrant community.

None of the event speakers mentioned the fact that Rauner wants to completely eliminate funding for the Immigrant Services Line Item as part of his proposed budget for the 2016 fiscal year.

The nearly $6.7 million line item funds two key programs that, among other things, help immigrants apply for citizenship and determine whether they are eligible for public benefits.

After the forum, Velasquez told Progress Illinois that immigrant services funding is one of the issues the coalition plans to bring up during a follow-up meeting with Rauner, who did not hold a press availability at today's event.

Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), which has loudly criticized Rauner's proposal to eliminate the Immigrant Services Line Item next year, was in the audience today. In an interview with Progress Illinois, Benito called it "concerning" that Rauner wants to wipe out funding that would help immigrants sign up for protections provided under a federal immigration reform measure, if it were to pass Congress. Service providers who receive funding from the line item are also assisting immigrants as they prepare for administrative relief as part of Obama's executive actions, which the president signed in November following long-standing inaction in the House on immigration reform.

"On one hand (Rauner) says he's supportive of (comprehensive immigration reform), at the same time the organizations and infrastructure that would help people get through that process would be decimated by his cuts," Benito explained. "And so, we're asking him to reconsider this. If he's truly supportive of that, then we'd like to see him work with the General Assembly to restore the cuts to make sure that the organizations and the individuals who are eligible can come forward and apply." 

Still, Benito said he appreciated the Republican officials taking a stand on comprehensive immigration reform at the event. 

"We do believe, as we've said since the bill passed the Senate, that the votes existed in the House for this bill to come forward and to pass," Benito said. "So this is encouraging that the members of Congress today said that they're supportive of it. We'd like to see them talk to the speaker and say, 'We'd like to see a bill come forward.'"

In remarks to reporters after the discussion, Kirk said federal immigration reform needs to go further than Obama's executive actions, which seek to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative and establish a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program.

"An executive order does not do enough for the immigrants in this country," Kirk said. "As you know, an executive order can be changed at anytime by any president. To hang the rights and privileges of 5 million people on something so thin is not enough."

For his part, Kinzinger stressed that the varying concerns and opinions on immigration reform held by Republicans and Democrats are not "unbridgeable."

"Many people are concerned about the presence of the undocumented here, as I am, but there are also people that are concerned about the security of the border," the congressman said. "I think we can handle both of those."

In his remarks, Schock cited figures from a new report from the Republican-leaning American Action Network, showing that it would cost the federal government between $400 billion to $600 billion to immediately and fully enforce current law to remove "the 11.2 million undocumented immigrants and prevent future unlawful entry into the United States." This type of mass deportation would also decrease real GDP by $1.6 trillion, the report reads.

"You can talk about it in economic terms, but I think at the end of the day it's human terms that ultimately get people to hopefully move in the right direction," Schock said. 

Dold, meanwhile, noted that in his 10th congressional district, which has a large manufacturing sector, many local employers have had difficulties finding skilled workers.

"As we look at the high-skilled [worker issue], we're educating the best and the brightest from all over the world," said Dold. "They're coming to the United States because we have some of the finest institutions in the world, and as soon as they graduate with that master's degree or PhD, what do we do? We kick them out to go compete against us, which to a certain extent is maddening. We want to say, 'No. No. We want you to stay here. We want you to innovate here. Create the next new patent here. Help create more American jobs right here.'" 

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