Illinois GOP Weighs In On Immigration Overhaul

Aug 9, 2013

Credit NPR

In Washington, the debate over an immigration overhaul is taking on a different tone. Some Republicans in the House are softening their stance against a key provision. That includes a member of Illinois’ Congressional delegation. Will other Illinois Republicans follow suit?

House Republicans have taken a hard-line stance against the immigration bill that cleared the Senate earlier this year. They say it doesn’t do enough to bolster border security. Another hang-up is a provision that offers a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants. It’s an idea that for the most part, the GOP has been reluctant to embrace.

But many party members acknowledge something needs to be done, because they say the system is broken. Some GOP lawmakers in the lower chamber are even changing their stance when it comes to the pathway provision. Illinois’ Aaron Schock is one of them. Here he is in a recent town hall meeting, responding to a question about the best way to provide a pathway to citizenship without skipping to the front of the immigration line. The 18th District Republican says first there must be a secure border.

“And I think when that happens, and people have paid their back taxes and they haven’t violated any laws and they’ve been here for a probationary period, they can apply for citizenship and go to the back of the line,” Schock said.

While it is not viewed as a full embrace of the provision, advocates see it as a sign of optimism amid the partisan gridlock over the bill. Fellow Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger, who represents the 16th District, is offering a similar, albeit cautious, view on the matter.

Like Schock, Kinzinger says he wants to see border security addressed first. He also calls for many of the same conditions Schock mentioned in his statement. Kinzinger also says he won’t fully support the concept until he sees it in writing.

“In this business, sometimes you can say ‘I do support it,’ and then the details aren’t right, especially when it comes to something as delicate as immigration, people can come back and say you weren’t honest,” Kinzinger said.

Kinzinger also says there shouldn’t be a rush when it comes to adopting an overhaul. He favors the piecemeal approach offered by House Republican leaders.

“I want to fix this so that, in 30 years, we have an immigration system that works. Ours is broken right now. [We need to] show the compassion to folks that are here, that America believes in,” Kinzinger said.

14th District Republican Randy Hultgren echoed those feelings in a statement issued by his office. He says it’s not a footrace. As for the pathway provision, he didn’t speak as broadly as his Republican colleagues. Instead, he focused on providing help to children of undocumented immigrants. Hultgren cited the House version of a bill that’s similar in nature to the DREAM Act in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the PEW Center estimates there are more than half-a-million undocumented immigrants living in Illinois. The group Organizing for Action wants to ensure those individuals and all others like them in the U.S. are put on a path toward citizenship. The group is branching out into legislative districts, in hopes of persuading enough lawmakers to get behind the effort.

Scott Cross is an OFA volunteer in Illinois. He says they were encouraged by this week’s statements from Congressman Schock.

“Mr Schock is among the leaders in Illinois. The fact that he’s showing a lot of moderation on this – he’s listening to his constituents,” Cross said.

Cross says Schock’s comments might put more pressure on other GOP Representatives in Illinois to openly consider the controversial provision.

The OFA has reached out to constituents in Adam Kinzinger’s district, urging them to call the Congressman’s office. Kinzinger says the move is not surprising. He says the group is more or less posing as a grass roots organization, noting that it’s a spinoff of President Obama’s campaign.

But Cross says the group is promoting what many citizens are saying about the issue, not to mention the many business groups that have spoken out about immigration in the U.S.

“You have business groups like the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and Caterpillar. You have faith leaders coming together,” Cross said.

Cross says his group knows that it has more arm twisting to do in the weeks ahead. Whether it will be enough to make a difference in reaching a compromise on this divisive issue remains to be seen.