Experts: Immigration reform legislation unlikely soon

By Robert Sanchez

Almost three years ago, the U.S. Senate passed immigration reform legislation that would have enhanced border security and created a legal path to citizenship for some of the nation’s estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

But the House hasn’t taken up the bill, while GOP presidential candidates are talking about building a wall along the Mexican border and deporting millions of people.

Given that political climate, it’s “unlikely” there will be any movement on comprehensive immigration reform this year, Clarisol Duque, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin’s Chicago office, said during a recent panel discussion at Aurora University.

The event was the latest in the school’s Town Square Series and included the immigration views of public policy, health care and business leaders.

“The issue of immigration impacts things on a global basis, as we’re finding day in and day out,” said former state Rep. Tom Cross, who works at the university in a job promoting a program in science, technology and math. “It affects this country. It also affects the state and the Fox Valley region.”

Cross said the issue also affects Aurora University, which has a number of students with Latino, Arab and Asian backgrounds.

Rebecca Shi, executive director of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, said immigration reform is an issue everyone should want addressed because it would strengthen the workforce and boost the economy.

“This is not just a border issue,” she said. “It’s actually a market issue.”

Shi said there are about 526,000 immigrants living illegally in Illinois, and they contribute $560 million in state and local taxes each year.

While high-skilled immigrants are critical to the economic future of the Midwest, the region also needs less-skilled immigrants for jobs that others are unable or unwilling to take, according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. As a result, more visas are needed.

“Today, we don’t actually have a visa that allows low-skilled labor,” said Juliana Kerr, director of global cities and immigration with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “The short-term, low-skilled visas that do exist, they’re like nine-month visas — in and out.”

Kerr says short-term visas don’t help dairy farmers and other employers who want to hire someone to work for them for years.

Immigration reform also could help the health care system.

Andrea Kovach, senior attorney with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, said immigrants living here illegally are “woven into the fabric of our community in Illinois” and are contributing to the state’s tax revenue base. But they only have a patchwork of health care services available to them. That includes severely overburdened clinics and hospital emergency rooms, which aren’t the place to get primary care and preventive care.

“You have these hardworking, undocumented adults who are working every day in Illinois,” Kovach said. “But if they don’t have access to health insurance, their absenteeism goes up. The workforce could be much healthier if they had access to insurance.”

Kovach said efforts are being made to create a pathway to health insurance coverage for those who are uninsured in Illinois.

Still, steps need to be taken at the federal level to reform the immigration system, the panelists said.

Duque says the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 that Durbin helped write with other members of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” was “the right way” to accomplish that goal.

That’s because the four Republicans and four Democrats who came up with the proposal found ways to compromise.

“Everyone gave a little,” Duque said. “Senator Durbin had to swallow hard when he had to approve the measures on the border and all the money that they were going to pour into securing the border. But he also understood that there was a pathway to legalization over the course of a long period of time.”

The way it stands now, neither Republicans nor Democrats have gotten what they wanted.

“Our immigration system is broken, which is why I continue to stand ready in Congress to work with the president on securing our borders, improving the visa system, and pursuing real reform of the system,” U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Republican from Plano, said this week in a written statement. “We need an immigration system that brings the best and brightest individuals and hardworking families to our shores.”

However, Hultgren said a step-by-step approach to reform — not sweeping changes — is the smartest way to ensure that the nation has an efficient, humane and fair system for everyone.

This week, U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, said the first step that’s needed is the federal government must show that it can secure the borders and more broadly protect the homeland. He said the visa waiver program must be strengthened “to keep out those who wish us harm.”

He said recent changes to the visa waiver program haven’t been fully enforced by the White House.

“There’s absolutely an opportunity to come up with an effective immigration policy,” Roskam said, “but Democrats need to get serious about solving the problem rather than using the issue to score political points.”

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About Robert Perkins
Robert A. Perkins | Attorney at Law Robert A. Perkins is the sole partner and founder of Robert A. Perkins & Associates, PC. Since the establishment of the firm in 1994, Mr. Perkins' focus has been in Employment and Family Based Immigration. Mr. Perkins has represented many companies and individuals within the United States and abroad. His experience and knowledge of immigration have made him a nationally renowned attorney in his field. Immigration Attorney Robert A. Perkins is licensed and admitted in the State of Illinois and the US Supreme Court.

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