Durbin, Foster urge House action on comprehensive immigration reform
AURORA — At a forum at an Aurora church Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) urged the U.S. House of Representatives to vote on legislation that would overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
The plan would include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally.
“All we’re asking for is a vote,” Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday at Ginger Creek Community Church. “We think it will pass.”
The more than 850-page bill passed the Senate in late June, but Republican House leaders have said they won’t bring the full legislation to the floor for a vote unless there is enough support to pass it.
There’s some division within the party on that approach. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the former Republican vice presidential nominee, said recently at a town hall meeting that he favors bringing the bill to the floor, even if all the votes needed to pass it aren’t locked down.
Other House Republicans are taking a piecemeal approach to changing the nation’s immigration laws, drafting several smaller stand-alone bills instead of a comprehensive one.
U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Republican whose district includes Geneva, Sugar Grove, Yorkville and Oswego, said he agrees with this method.
“This step-by-step approach is the proper method, because each section of a reform bill should be able to stand on its own as the right thing for the American people,” Hultgren said in an emailed statement. “We should not be horse trading with unrelated sections of a comprehensive bill to come to what will surely be an inadequate solution.”
Congress is now in recess, and Durbin plans to use the time to visit communities across the state to stump for the legislation he originally introduced with seven other senators — four Democrats and four Republicans, known as the “Gang of Eight” — back in April.
In addition to his Aurora stop, Durbin will hold similar roundtables in Joliet, Wheaton and Libertyville, as well as an immigration talk in Peoria.
Attendees of the Aurora forum included Mayor Tom Weisner, state Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) and local leaders from the faith, business, law enforcement, education and medical communities.
Durbin reiterated that the bill he and other senators, including Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, passed was a compromise after months of negotiations and that Democrats had to agree to stricter border controls to get Republicans to the table.
“This is not the bill that Dick Durbin or Bill Foster would have written, but I think it’s a fair compromise,” Durbin said.
The bill includes provisions to tighten border security, raise the cap on visas for high-skilled workers and allow undocumented immigrants to register with the government to apply for provisional legal status and work permits. After 10 years they could apply for a green card, after passing a criminal background check. Younger residents could apply after five years if they arrived in the country before the age of 16, graduated from high school and go on to serve in the military or pursue higher education.
Durbin said making a moral case for supporting immigration reform was key in getting faith-based groups to back the legislation, which in turn helped garner Republican support. The economic case has also been a strong push.
Weisner said immigration reform would improve Aurora’s economy by strengthening the labor pool and increasing the tax base. The Senate immigration bill requires undocumented immigrants who register with the government to pay taxes without eligibility for federal benefits until they receive legal status.
“It’s my fervent hope that we get beyond this stalemate,” Weisner said. “The worst thing we can do is nothing.”
Those frustrated that lawmakers failed to pass immigration reform before the summer recess staged a demonstration and sit-in near the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Friday.
Among them was Maria Torres, an outreach specialist at Family Focus in Aurora who was invited to speak at the roundtable event Tuesday. Torres said she was not among the 41 protesters who were arrested that day — because she doesn’t have legal status she didn’t want to risk being put into deportation proceedings by being taken into custody — but she said she was inspired by the support she witnessed.
“I like to say I’m not a dreamer, I’m a doer” Torres said. “When I see people who are not immigrants, who do have a Social Security number putting their life on the line out there for me, I take my hat off to them.”