Recent debate on immigration has turned for the worse. A massive deportation proposal put forth by some presidential candidates is senseless. It would devastate Illinois’ economy and destroy hardworking immigrant families.

Illinois has always depended on the innovation, hard work and optimism of immigrants from around the globe. In the face of federal gridlock, we have led the nation in rational, state-based solutions.

OPINION

We passed in-state tuition and the Illinois DREAM Act to allow our driven, talented undocumented students to go to college and beyond. I am thinking about students such as Irakere Picon, who recently completed law school at Northern Illinois University, keeping a promise that he made to then Representative and now House Speaker Paul Ryan that he would finish law school and defend the U.S. Constitution.

The recently passed temporary visitors driver’s license program has so far licensed and insured nearly 200,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois, injecting an additional $160 million into our state economy each year, and making the roads safer for you and me.

An upcoming piece of state legislation in a similar spirit that I wholeheartedly support is the Student Access bill.

Passage of the Student Access bill would allow 4-year public universities to offer financial aid to every student enrolled at their institution on a competitive basis regardless of their immigration status. This is a commonsense investment because our state already invests in every student in K-12 education. By simply creating a level playing field for our undocumented students at no additional cost to the state, we are investing in our state’s future.

Some members of my Republican Party argue that any approach to comprehensive immigration reform should begin with securing the borders. I believe our best security ought to be the economy. The federal government has wasted billions of tax dollars on deportation programs that do not work and on securing the borders, though the numbers show that our borders are as secure now as at any time in recent memory.

A rational approach to comprehensive immigration reform should begin with the young people who were brought here as babies, toddlers and adolescents. Many of them can legally work as a result of the federal government’s policy of deferred action, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children to receive a work permit and protection from deportation.

Creating a level playing field for their higher education is an investment in our state’s future. When we do it right, our future is bright.

The Student Access Bill will make us economically stronger. It is politically smart and morally right.

Jim Edgar was governor of Illinois from 1991 to 1999. He serves on the Steering Committee of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, and is a distinguished fellow at the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

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