This past spring, bipartisan majorities in the Illinois General Assembly passed five bills that offer practical, common sense solutions to urgent issues that immigrants in our state face. In a time of increasingly polarized political and social debate about immigrants and their role in our society, these bills recognize the humanity, rights, and contributions of immigrants to the entire state.
Collectively, these bills also serve as a counterbalance to the invective and hyperbolic accusations by some in my own party about immigrants in our society. Each bill reflects the struggle, fears and challenges faced by immigrants, which have only been amplified by the current administration in Washington.
These are the five bills:
The Immigration Safe Zones Act (SB 35) addresses the all-too-common fear among many immigrants of law enforcement agents swooping them up as they go to court, seek medical attention, pursue education, and seek other assistance. This bill would direct the Illinois Attorney General to develop model policies for courthouses, schools, libraries, medical facilities, and shelters on how to handle immigration enforcement activity. These model policies would send a strong signal that education, public health and justice should be available for all Illinois residents, while ensuring that any enforcement activity at these locations meet basic legal standards.
The VOICES Act (SB 34) would set consistent rules for law enforcement agencies that work with survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, and certain other crimes. These survivors can seek federal protections if law enforcement agencies certify that they have come forward and actively cooperated in the prosecution of their case, but too often these agencies delay or deny these certifications. By setting standards for handling certification requests, this bill would encourage the untold numbers of survivors who have yet to come forward to report and cooperate with law enforcement, and improve public safety for all.
The Anti-Registry Program Act (SB 3488) would bar state and local agencies from creating or participating in registry programs that single out Illinois residents based on race, national origin, religion, or certain other characteristics. This bill would ensure that our neighbors will not face discrimination because of where they come from and how they worship.
The Immigrant Tenant Protection Act (SB 3103) would protect immigrant renters from unscrupulous landlords who might seek to avoid their legal obligations under Illinois law and local ordinances by issuing threats and illegal evictions based solely on immigration status.
SB 3109, an amendment to the Department of Professional Regulation Law, would remove immigration-related barriers to many Illinois professional licenses, allowing many skilled immigrants to pursue their chosen vocations and benefit our communities and state economy.
None of these bills prohibit law enforcement or public institutions from complying with any legal obligation under federal or state law.
Further, none of these bills provide the complete solution that only the federal government can offer. Yet as the federal government continues to be mired in gridlock, particularly around the issue of immigration, Illinois can continue to show how state and local governments can develop our own solutions to uphold the rights and dignity of all of our residents, provide unfettered access to justice through our legal system and courts and other institutions, and build our entire state’s economy and bring our communities together.
I urge Governor Rauner to sign all of these bills.
Jim Edgar served as governor of Illinois from 1991 to 1999.
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