Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday March 4th, 2015, 3:48pm

Advocates To Rauner: Reconsider 'Devastating' Budget Cuts To Immigrant Services (VIDEO)

Illinois immigrant advocates are stressing the importance of programs funded through the state's Immigrant Services Line Item (ISLI), which Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to eliminate entirely as part of his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

At a Chicago press conference Wednesday, leaders with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) released a new report by the group, showing that the line item's elimination could have "devastating effects" on immigrants, service providers and the state's economy.

"We understand the weight of what's going on down in Springfield around the state budget. We know that there are not going to be any easy fixes to this. It's going to require a combination of revenue enhancements, smart investments but also responsible cuts," said ICIRR CEO Lawrence Benito. "Cutting investments which provide five-fold returns is no way to solve a state's problems. It will only exacerbate them. It's pennywise and pound foolish. And so our message to the governor and the General Assembly today is: Latino and immigrant communities are essential to Illinois and moving our economy forward." 

The $6.67 million Immigrant Services Line Item (ISLI) is within the budget of the Illinois Department of Human Services. It represents about .01 percent of the state's total budget, according to ICIRR. 

The line item funds two key initiatives, including the Immigrant Family Resource Program, which assists immigrants in determining whether they are eligible for public benefits and enables the state to "fulfill its language-access obligations under the federal Civil Rights Act," reads an ICIRR fact sheet. The other program funded through ISLI is the New Americans Initiative, which provides citizenship application assistance and outreach. 

ICIRR manages the majority of ISLI funding and re-grants it to partner organizations. Sixty organizations currently offer ISLI-funded services, in addition to other immigrant supports.

As part of its report, ICIRR conducted a survey of the ISLI program organizations to determine how they could be impacted if Rauner gets his way on the line item for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. 

Of the 52 organizations that returned the survey, nearly 79 percent of respondents said they would have to end their services related to the two ISLI programs if the line item gets wiped out entirely. Three organizations said they would have to end all of their programming if such a budget reduction is approved.

About 85 percent of the groups surveyed said they would be unable to support their current staff if the line item is completely cut. Overall, fully defunding the line item could result in 229 layoffs among the immigrant-serving organizations, 18 of which employ seven or fewer full-time staffers, according to ICIRR.

Juan Salgado leads one of the groups that would be impacted by the proposed budget cuts, the Chicago-based Instituto del Progreso Latino. 

He warned that some immigrant service providers would likely be forced to shut down if ISLI funding is not maintained.

If Rauner's "budget comes to fruition, this infrastructure doesn't survive," he said.

Salgado stressed that immigrants -- who represent about 14 percent of the state's total population, but make up more than 17 percent of its workforce and own nearly 15 percent of all Illinois businesses -- are key to growing the local economy. 

Eliminating funding for immigrant services would mean "a step back in terms of a pro-growth [budget] strategy" favored by Rauner, Salgado noted.

The Immigrant Family Resource Program assisted more than 71,000 individuals in the 2014 fiscal year, up 18 percent from the previous year, at an average cost of $59.33 per case, according to ICIRR.

Also last fiscal year, the New Americans Initiative helped file nearly 10,900 citizenship applications, up 52 percent from fiscal year 2013. Since 2005, the New Americans Initiative has assisted more than 96,400 immigrants with citizenship applications. The entire citizenship process costs about $125 per applicant through the initiative, which also holds informational workshops across the state.

"Immigrant integration adds much-needed dollars to the Illinois economy," Benito stressed. "On average, legal status adds nearly $2,000 to an immigrant's annual wages and nearly $7,000 for those who receive citizenship."

ICIRR members, meanwhile, have been meeting with Springfield legislators about the proposed cuts to immigrant services. Benito said ICIRR is optimistic that lawmakers will protect the line item in next year's budget.

"We have support from both Republicans and Democrats from the various caucuses for our line, so that's encouraging to hear from members of the General Assembly directly," Benito said. "Obviously, the state needs to figure out the issue of revenue and what they're going to do to move forward. But we are encouraged by what we've heard in Springfield thus far." 

Here's more from Benito as well as ICIRR Deputy Director Ahlam Jbara:

A Rauner spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment on this story.

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