Immigration Reform in the House: Tough, but Not Impossible

July 8, 2013

By Ione Barrows, Community Organizing Intern                   

The Latino Policy Forum at the University of Illinois at Chicago hosted the program “Immigration Reform: What’s Next?” with Senator Dick Durbin and a panel of leaders on immigration reform.  The program offered an update and analysis of where we are in the campaign to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform and what is on the horizon.Image

Chicago leaders in the national campaign for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) gathered at UIC on Monday morning for a panel discussion on the Senate bill and its prospects in the House. Co-hosted by the UIC Latin American Studies Program and the Latino Policy Forum, the event featured U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and the directors of several immigrant advocacy organizations. While the speakers expressed varying degrees of optimism about CIR’s fate in the Republican-controlled House, all agreed that we are at a crucial juncture in the campaign: they shared a sense of urgency to pressure the opponents of CIR in Congress.

Senator Durbin, one of the CIR bill’s “Gang of Eight,” opened his talk with a sigh in reference to the demanding week he had just completed. He emphasized his support for the bill that passed in the Senate last week, despite some major concessions to Senate Republicans that he was “not happy about.” For Durbin, creating a viable path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country is a non-negotiable priority.

Durbin questioned the rationale for the billions of dollars the bill allocates to militarization of the southern border, especially given the high success rate of our current enforcement system (an estimated 97% of those who cross the border are arrested and deported, resulting in a “net zero migration rate”).  However, he explained that the border enforcement costs will be fully covered by fines and increased fees for visas. In fact, Durbin insisted that immigration reform will be a boon to the American economy: immigrants coming out of the shadows will bring up wages across the board and decrease the national deficit.

Following Senator Durbin’s talk, six local immigration reform advocates answered questions about the bill’s prospects as the House reconvenes after July recess. Lawrence Benito, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), outlined the five piecemeal acts that the House will likely propose in lieu of the Senate’s more comprehensive bill, which includes wider use of E-Verify and state power to create and enforce immigration law.

Karolyn Talbert of the National Immigrant Justice Center discussed the challenges of providing legal services for immigrants and educating people about the different forms of relief available to them.  Many young people are eligible for DACA but haven’t filed for it, Talbert explained, simply because they don’t have access to the information or steep application fees.

Also on the panel was Guillermo Mata, a former undocumented immigrant and leader for UNITE HERE Local 1, a union of hospitality workers in the Chicago area. Mata spoke about the economic implications of increased deportations through mandatory E-Verify.

The discussion ended with a consensus: Comprehensive Immigration Reform faces many challenges, but these are not insurmountable. Latino and immigrant voters and their allies can play a decisive role in future elections, so it is within their power to pressure their representatives to support CIR.

For more information about how to get involved in the campaign for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, please contact Rabbi Ali Abrams, Director of Organizing, at alison@jcua.org.

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