EDITORIAL: Pass these laws in Illinois to give immigrants some relief

SHARE EDITORIAL: Pass these laws in Illinois to give immigrants some relief

Demonstrators participate in a May Day march, rallying for workers and immigrants, last year in Chicago. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

An immigrant should be able to ask a landlord to fix a rundown apartment without worrying that the property owner could retaliate by reporting him or her to federal immigration authorities.

Immigrants should be able to seek medical care at hospitals, and kids should be able to go to school, without worrying that immigration authorities could swoop in and detain them or their families.

These are just two issues facing many immigrants that the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner should remedy this spring.


Illinois has some 1.78 million immigrants; estimates of unauthorized immigrants living in this state have ranged between 450,000 and 519,000 in the last four years.

Some need tenant protections while others need barriers removed so they can become pharmacists or teachers. And many need relief from the hateful rhetoric of President Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant policies.

Below is a list of bills pertaining to immigrants that we strongly urge the Illinois House of Representatives to pass and Rauner to sign. All already have passed the Senate:

Immigrant Tenant Protection Act: It prohibits landlords from intimidating, harassing or retaliating against immigrant tenants. A landlord could still evict a tenant for lease violations but couldn’t extort someone for higher rent, kick out a tenant or threaten to turn a family over to immigration authorities because of immigration status. Current laws don’t clearly offer these protections to immigrants.

We wish this bill had tougher penalties for landlords who violate the law. It would allow tenants to sue landlords over mistreatment and discrimination, but undocumented immigrants could be reluctant to come forward. Still, a law on the books, which could have a deterrent effect on some rogue landlords, is better than none.

Professional licensing amendment: The state oversees licensing for dozens of professions, from medical fields to cosmetology. Currently, young undocumented immigrants can become licensed professionals in many fields — as long as they are allowed to work by the federal government. This bill would give uniformity in allowing undocumented immigrants to be licensed in all fields no matter their immigration status.

This is important because Trump is trying to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, that allows some younger undocumented immigrants to work. This bill means those protected by DACA wouldn’t have to worry about losing their licenses, which are hard-earned, if the program dies. Others who aren’t in the program could start to aim high to become doctors, nurses and teachers. But they all would be dependent on Congress passing a law to give them legal status so they could work.

“It sends an important message, especially for DACA recipients,” the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, Rep. Will Guzzardi, told us. “If you’re in Illinois, we respect not only their rights and dignity but their professional ambition.”

Voices Act: Undocumented immigrants who are victims of certain crimes, such as sexual assault or domestic violence, receive consideration for special visas to live legally in the U.S. — if they assist in the investigation of the crimes or prosecutions. An application for the visa is evaluated by the federal government only if a local law enforcement agency certifies the victim cooperated with cops or prosecutors.

The problem is that some local law enforcement agencies don’t understand the federal visa law and many apply their own disparate guidelines for certification. Some wrongly think providing certification means they are bestowing legal status when legalization is decided by the federal government. This bill sets guidelines for cops and prosecutors to follow.

Immigration Safe Zones Act: Confusion reigned after Trump became president. He and Attorney General Jeff Sessions immediately ramped up deportations of undocumented immigrants, leaving some families unsure about going out in public, even to seek medical care or take children to school. Some schools pledged to keep immigration agents out of schools unless agents had criminal warrants. This bill would require the Illinois attorney general to come up with rules on how public schools, hospitals, libraries and courthouses could limit assistance to immigration authorities without breaking federal and state laws.

Also under this law, state agencies, as well as public schools and universities, would be banned from asking about citizenship or immigration status unless required by law or court order.

Anti-registry Program Act: Senate President John Cullerton hasn’t forgotten about Trump’s Muslim ban or Trump’s talk of establishing a registry of Muslims in America. Cullerton is a chief sponsor of this bill that rightly says Illinois would never take part in an effort to register groups based on religion, race, color, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, disability or military status.

Consequences of guilty pleas: This bill says immigrant defendants would have two years to withdraw a guilty plea if courts fail to advise them of potential consequences to their immigration status (i.e. the possibility of deportation or revocation of a green card). It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 51-0, in the Senate. It should be a no-brainer for the House.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com

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