Ill. Senate candidates say little on immigration
By Sophia Tareen
The Associated Press, January 5, 2010
Chicago (AP) — Illinois politicians and activists have helped shape the national Immigration debate, but those vying for President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat had little of substance to say when asked about the issue recently by The Associated Press.
Democratic and Republican candidates alike stuck close to their party lines when answering a recent questionnaire on Immigration. They offered few specifics about what to do with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the country. And several candidates don't list Immigration as an issue on their Web sites.
The issue touches millions: families that could be split apart because of Immigration status, employers who are under scrutiny about hiring, workers in many industries and anyone concerned about border security.
The five Democrats seeking their party's nomination on Feb. 2 support a major overhaul of Immigration laws, including a path to citizenship status for illegal immigrants. The six Republican candidates focus on better enforcement of existing laws.
Experts say the lack of specifics from candidates on both sides is disheartening.
'I'm disappointed, obviously,' said Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for tighter controls on Immigration. 'I want Democrats and Republicans to be more serious about enforcement, but it doesn't surprise me.'
Responding to the questionnaire, few of the candidates had a clear answer on what to do with children who are U.S. citizens but whose parents are illegal immigrants, one of the most critical points in the Immigration debate.
'I support a system that keeps families — husbands and wives, and parents and children — together,' Democrat Alexi Giannoulias said without elaborating.
Other Democrats were even more vague.
David Hoffman, for instance, said families should be kept together when possible and that the question shows the need for comprehensive reform. Cheryle Jackson's answer focused on children's health care.
Republicans either avoided the question or said children must leave if their parents are deported.
'If a parent or legal guardian are here illegally, but have a child who is a U.S. citizen, the parents are responsible for the child's well being,' said Republican Patrick Hughes, a developer. 'This means if the parents are sent out the country the child must go with them.'
Republican Mark Kirk simply said, 'Under the Constitution, individuals born on U.S. soil are American citizens.'
As a member of the U.S. House, Kirk voted in 2005 for legislation that would have made it a felony for illegal immigrants to live in the U.S. The bill failed but became the catalyst for mass Immigration protests nationwide.
Illinois has often led the country on immigrant issues.
Chicago has the biggest crowds at May 1 immigrant rights rallies. Illinois was the only state to challenge E-verify, a federal database which helps determine a worker's legal status.
And several Illinois Democrats have attempted reform, including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who introduced an Immigration bill last month that seeks to legalize undocumented immigrants by requiring them to pay a fine and learn English, among other things. Sen. Dick Durbin, who has proposed legislation that would allow high school graduates to continue their education and eventually become legal residents.
On the question of what issues candidates would like to see in an Immigration reform bill, Democrats' top issues were cracking down on employers, securing borders and a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already in the U.S.
'My parents left Greece because they believed in the promise of America. That promise is slipping away from immigrant families today,' said Giannoulias, who supports requiring illegal immigrants to learn English and pay a fine.
Hoffman said the U.S. should expand its temporary worker program, and fellow Democrat Jacob Meister, a Chicago attorney, said a specialized lottery system for immigrants from Latin America could reduce the pressure on people to enter the country illegally.
Republicans said there needs to be greater enforcement of laws, mostly in improving security along the United States-Mexico border.
Kirk tied the issue to homeland security and economic stability, saying he opposes calls to pull out of NAFTA.
'Until we control our border, hold employers accountable and properly engage Mexico, no Immigration reforms will work,' Kirk said. 'If we accomplish these objectives, our families will be safer, economic growth in Mexico will expand and many reforms will become possible.'
Those who study Immigration say more specific stances on Immigration reform could come after the primary.
'Each is running in a primary and the Democrats want immigrant and Latino votes and the Republicans don't want to lose conservative votes,' said Josh Hoyt, the executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which supports Immigration reform. 'There is going to be a vigorous debate.'
Ill. Senate candidates lackluster on immigration
The Associated Press, January 5, 2010