Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to take executive action on immigration if Congress won’t, arguing that Democratic losses in the U.S. House and Senate are not an invitation to continued stalemate.
“There are some who believe they follow a political process of obstruction. But I don’t believe the public voted for obstruction [Tuesday], and I don’t think they voted for just criticizing for the sake of criticism,” Emanuel said after a City Council meeting.
“They want ideas and solutions. And part of the ideas and solutions necessary to move not just the country forward, but most importantly the city, is immigration. We need a resolution,” he said.
If the Republican-controlled Congress decides to “stand in the way” of immigration reform, Emanuel said he’s “not only hopeful, but asking” his former boss to sign an executive order to “finally bring those who live in the shadows of society into the daylight.”
“We have a series of things we’ve done as a city on our own. We have citizenship corners in our public libraries to help people get citizenship. We’ve allowed Dreamers to apply for summer jobs. But we need an executive order or legislation,” the mayor said.
“If Congress won’t work with the president, I believe the president will then move forward because it’s essential for the city of Chicago. Yes, a city of immigrants. But I remind you almost half of the small businesses were started by recent immigrants. . . . About a third to 40 percent of the new patents [are filed by] immigrants. This is in our economic interest and well being that we have immigration reform.”
Emanuel has struggled with the issue of immigration reform during his entire career in politics.
A treasure trove of documents from former President Bill Clinton’s administration shows one of his brash young staffers — Rahm Emanuel — pushing his boss to get tough on illegal immigrants and seize crime-fighting from the Republicans as a defining issue.
Emanuel called for the president to expand hearings in Illinois and six other states “to claim and achieve record deportations of criminal aliens.”
He suggested dramatically expanding the use of the National Guard “to secure key metropolitan areas along the border.” Clinton scribbled “agree” next to the proposal.
Emanuel also called for a one-month moratorium on naturalization of immigrants “to review past files for criminal misconduct.”
“You will need such steps to get ahead of a bad story,” Emanuel wrote.
During Emanuel’s days as White House chief of staff under Obama, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., accused Emanuel of standing in the way of immigration reform and being almost singularly responsible for Obama’s failure to deliver on his campaign promise to Hispanics.
Gutierrez retaliated by endorsing mayoral candidate Gery Chico over Emanuel.
Now that he’s mayor and needs the Hispanic vote to get re-elected, Emanuel is no longer the primary roadblock. He’s more like the lead blocker.
He has lobbied hard for immigration reform at swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens and participated in hunger strikes. He has created an Office of New Americans in the mayor’s office to build bridges to immigrants.
And he has championed a “Welcome City” ordinance that would prohibit Chicago Police from detaining undocumented immigrants unless they are wanted on a criminal warrant or have been convicted of a serious crime.
“He’s not chief of staff and he’s not standing in the way. Those are pretty clear differences,” Gutierrez said on the day the “Welcome City” ordinance was introduced.
“I have made a priority the reform of our immigration system. If the mayor of Chicago is going to work toward making Chicago a model city in respect to its treatment of immigrants, then I’m gonna stand with that mayor. The thing that separated us . . . was immigration during the campaign. The thing that’s uniting us after his election is immigration policy.”
Emanuel added, “Luis and I were friends in Congress, remained friends during the campaign. He made his decision [to endorse Chico] and, the moment the campaign was over, he called me and said, ‘Let’s work together in the interest of the city’ and I said, ‘You’re on.’ “