By Paul Zulkie, AILA Past President
On May 4, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn notified ICE that he was pulling the state out of ICE’s flawed Secure Communities initiative. For us locals, it is nice to see the Land of Lincoln get national recognition for leadership on immigration policy as opposed to criminal trials of ex-governors or fiscal mismanagement.
Illinois suspended its participation in Secure Communities last November to study its effects. In his letter to ICE making Illinois the first state in the country to withdraw from the program, Governor Quinn essentially accused ICE of breach of contract. The 2009 memorandum between the state and ICE stated that the purpose of Secure Communities was to identify and remove aliens who have been convicted of serious offenses.
It took a while for state officials to discover what AILA members and community organizations have known from day one: Secure Communities is one big bait and switch from DHS. In Illinois one-third of those removed as a result of the Secure Communities program had never been convicted of any crime. Nationally that number is closer to 60 percent. Those caught in the round up were working in jobs Americans won’t fill. They were DREAMERS who have spent nearly their entire lives in the U.S. They were productive and responsible members of their communities.
Actually it was more surprising that Illinois even signed up for Secure Communities in the first place. Unlike Arizona and other states trying to imitate Arizona, Illinois has long been a very immigrant-friendly state. For years Chicago Mayor Richard Daley refused to cooperate with the old INS and more recently ICE in their efforts to arrest and deport those whose only violation of the law was being an EWI or overstay.
The same day that Governor Quinn pulled the state from Secure Communities, the Illinois Senate voted 45-11 (with Republican support-oh my!) to enact a local DREAM Act that calls for administering privately funded scholarships and other financial aid to students who were brought into the U.S. as children.
In its article on these developments the Chicago Tribune quotes Roy Beck of Numbers USA as saying: “Illinois is without competition the most pro-illegal immigration state in the country, even before this.”
Roy, that is not quite accurate. Illinois voters and its elected officials get it: our immigration system is hopelessly broken and has been for a very long time. It is a federal problem that should not be foisted on state and local governments and law enforcement agencies to “fix.” It is up to Congress to act responsibly and enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Hopefully, Chicago’s very own President Obama has taken note of the message being sent by his old friends and strongest political supporters back home. Please stop adding more dysfunction to the hopelessly broken immigration system. Use your executive powers to implement administrative fixes everywhere you can until Congress acts. And please lead Congress to do what both parties know has to be done despite their lack of courage to actually do what is right.