Durbin, Foster rally support for immigration reform
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org August 7, 2013 7:30PM
Updated: September 9, 2013 2:53PM
JOLIET — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-11th) brought their quest for immigration reform to Joliet on Wednesday.
A compromise bill has passed the Senate, but it’s stuck in the House because Speaker John Boehner won’t let it proceed to a vote, Durbin told those who attended a roundtable discussion on the issue at St. Patrick’s Church, 710 W. Marion St.
The bill isn’t perfect, Durbin admitted, but he said it contains key components that both Republicans and Democrats are seeking. He urged people to contact their senators and representatives and urge them to support the bill before Congress reconvenes later this month.
“We really have a historic opportunity here we should not squander,” said Foster, who represents most of Joliet.
Local officials on Wednesday’s panel all spoke in support of immigration reform.
Joliet acting Police Chief Brian Benton said immigration reform is a public safety issue for the city because helping illegal immigrants “come out of the shadows and work with law enforcement” would enhance safety.
Russ Slinkard, president and chief executive of the Joliet Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said the chamber supports reform that secures the country’s borders and also works to bring skilled workers to the U.S. not just agricultural and seasonal workers. The chamber also supports including a path to citizenship for the roughly 11.5 million undocumented people in this country.
Arvid Johnson, president and CEO of the University of St. Francis in Joliet, said it’s important for the U.S. to continue to get the students and workers it needs to stay competitive. But USF also supports immigration reform because it’s the compassionate thing to do, he said.
“(We believe) that family members should not be separated, and that those who are brought here as children should not be penalized for actions over which they have no control,” Johnson said.
Beth Hughes, president and CEO of St. Joseph Medical Center, said immigration reform would help protect public health and reduce the cost of everyone’s medical insurance. Until reform is passed, the cries of illegal immigrants who need help “go unanswered,” she said.
Durbin said the pending bill would double the number of miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border to 1,400 and would double the number of border agents to 40,000, creating “one of the largest standing armies in the world on our border.”
Republicans who voted for the measure said they would walk away from the table if border security wasn’t addressed, Durbin explained.
But he said Democrats also insisted there be a path to citizenship, which there is, but it’s a difficult one. The bill requires undocumented residents to register with the federal government and undergo criminal background checks.
If a serious crime comes up, “you are gone,” Durbin said. If not, the person could stay in the U.S. and work and travel in and out of the country.
People who register also would have to pay taxes and into Social Security, unemployment and workers’ compensation funds, but they would receive almost no government benefits, including coverage under the insurance exchanges created by Obamacare, Durbin said.
He said at the end of 10 years, crime-free registrants who learned English could get a “green card” and be on a path to citizenship.
Foster hopes there might be two more opportunities next year to get the bill passed, one after the primary elections and another after the November election, but Durbin doesn’t want to see it come to that, saying “I don’t want to wait.”