As she was growing up on the city’s Southwest Side, Jocelyn Aranda’s belief in the power of voting was forged as she watched relatives working long hours for low wages who didn’t feel empowered to speak up for themselves because they weren’t U.S. citizens.
That experience is what spurred Aranda, 19, to spend the past three months knocking on doors in the Little Village neighborhood, registering students at local high schools to vote and trying to galvanize potential voters at community events in advance of the Nov. 6 midterm election. At the top of the ticket, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is trying to fend off a vigorous challenge from Democrat J.B. Pritzker — a race in which the outcome could have ramifications on Illinois’ immigrant community.
Aranda, who says she recently became a naturalized citizen, wants the next governor to understand the immigrant community and shepherd policy and legislation to improve their lives.
“I want them to take action,” said Aranda, a fellow at Enlace Chicago, a Little Village-based community group whose organizers have been critical of Rauner’s stance on immigration. “I want them to stick to their words and what they believe in.”
While the nation’s immigration policy is set at the federal level, experts and activists say Illinois’ next governor will have the power to shape public opinion and the state’s response to President Donald Trump’s continued calls for limiting immigration — ranging from building a wall along the southern border and ending illegal immigration to curbing programs that provided a path to living and working in the country.
Rauner came into office presenting a welcoming voice to immigrants, telling an audience in Chinatown just two weeks before his 2014 election, “I support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.”
Now, Rauner says that he continues to support comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level and adds that a path to citizenship for people currently in the country illegally could be part of a solution. He also opposes communities declaring sanctuary status for immigrants.
The immigration issue is a significant one for Rauner in his re-election bid, particularly as he tries to unify a socially conservative core Republican base in support of Trump’s hard-line stance.
As governor, Rauner has a mixed record on immigration. In his first year in office, he backed Republican calls nationally seeking a halt in accepting refugees from war-torn Syria in Illinois. Two years later, he signed the Trust Act that prevents law enforcement from detaining people solely on the basis of their immigration status without a judicial warrant.
This summer, he vetoed three bills that would have expanded rights for undocumented immigrants in Illinois. He cited federal laws in two of his vetoes, including one piece of legislation that would have called for the Illinois attorney general to develop policies to limit federal immigration officers from detaining immigrants living in the country illegally in public spaces like a library or courthouse.
“It is the policy of this administration to comply with both the letter and spirit of that law, and this legislation demonstrates an intent to undermine the spirit of federal immigration law by guiding and encouraging government entities to restrict assistance to federal authorities,” Rauner wrote as his reasoning for a veto.
More recently, Rauner has blamed immigrants living in the country illegally for contributing to Chicago gun violence by taking away jobs from citizens in neighborhoods with high unemployment.
Pritzker, in contrast, has sharply attacked Trump’s immigration policies, backed sanctuary city status for Chicago and other municipalities and has called for stronger laws to protect those in the country illegally.
In the midst of the debate are the nearly 1.8 million immigrants who call Illinois home. Aranda, a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is skeptical of what, if anything, the next governor will do for immigrants, saying she feels like she’s heard the same speech about immigration from candidates.
Shaping immigration policy
Governors don’t determine who is allowed into the country or the enforcement of immigration laws, but the position comes with power and influence significant enough to shape public policy and opinion, said Kent Redfield, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
The governor and legislature decide if taxpayer money is funneled to statewide immigration services. For example, the Immigrant Family Resource Program, a partnership between the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Coalition on Immigration and Refugee Rights, assists low-income immigrants with limited English-speaking skills apply for states public benefits.
A governor could also work with statewide officials, such as the attorney general, to challenge federal immigration policies in court, said Michael Jarecki, a Chicago-based immigration attorney. In June, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined with attorneys general from more than a dozen states in filing a federal lawsuit aimed at reuniting migrant children and their parents separated at the United States’ southern border. Rauner was not involved in the court filing.
Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said a governor’s involvement in federal issues is largely symbolic but can be important in displaying a leadership role to a state’s citizens.
“That doesn’t mean that they are going to do anything about it, but you are going to hear about it,” Mooney said.
Tom Fitton, president of the national conservative group Judicial Watch, said a governor can strengthen immigration enforcement and said every state should consider itself a “border” state.
Fitton said Illinois is considered a “problem child” because of local policies like the Trust Act and Chicago’s Sanctuary City ordinance. The city’s ordinance bars police from letting federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have access to people in local custody. It also prohibits on-duty police officers from talking with ICE officials before a person is released from custody, or allowing ICE agents to use local police facilities for investigations.
“It worsens illegal immigration and encourages more illegal immigration,” Fitton said about local sanctuary policies. “And thwarts federal law.”
Rauner has taken a harder stance on immigration, making comments earlier this month that were later criticized by immigration advocates and have been debunked by previous studies.
“One of the reasons we have such high unemployment in the city of Chicago and so much crime is the massive number of illegal immigrants here take jobs away from American citizens and Chicago citizens,” Rauner said.
Rauner’s signature on the Trust Act, after rejecting an earlier effort to protect those in the state illegally, was considered a victory by immigration advocates. But conservatives, including Republican primary challenger state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, seized on the law and used it to accuse Rauner of turning Illinois into a sanctuary state.
The backlash has resulted in Rauner trying to win back the conservative base while also not trying to mimic Ives, Redfield said.
“The governor has a difficult political problem and he’s trying to walk a thin line in terms of winning back the conservative base or get (voters) to the position where they are going to say, ‘I don’t like all of Rauner but I don’t want to elect Pritzker,’” Redfield said.
To-do list for next governor
Regardless of who wins next month, Fred Tsao, the senior policy counsel for ICIRR, said the immigrant community will continue to deal with the consequences of Trump’s administration. ICIRR wants to continue pushing for the bills Rauner vetoed and to further restrict the scope of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
“We also would like to see the next governor stand up more boldly against this administration in its attempts to separate our families and break up our community through its enforcement initiatives, and its attempts to undermine family immigration and cut back on refugee resettlement,” Tsao said.
Pritzker has voiced support for undocumented students and for the Trust Act, which Andy Kang, the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, described as fairly common Democratic positions on immigration. But Kang said he would like to see the next governor go further to implement statewide policies that would welcome more immigrants such as having basic government services available in more languages.
“The next governor, whoever they are, should also begin to think of what kind of society we want to create here in Illinois,” Kang said. “One globally competitive for immigration.”
Aranda would like to see the next governor open up more scholarship opportunities to students who are in the country without legal permission.
On a recent evening, Aranda was among a group of people, mostly teens, munching on chips and pizza at a “Ballot Party” at Yollocalli Arts Reach in Little Village. The group explored the candidates and shared stories about the first time they voted. One felt the experience was cold, while another was greeted with cookies.
Aranda has the most success rallying voters at these types of events where she can motivate younger people who will then go home and share the information with their parents. Because households can include both citizens and immigrants in the country illegally — and because of the heightened fear of ICE — potential voters could be dissuaded if someone simply asks to see their identification, she said. As the evening ended, Aranda told the group to not let their skepticism about politicians keep them from casting a ballot.
“Make your action be worth something,” she told the group.
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October 29, 2018 at 05:33AM