Some bills pending in the Illinois General Assembly relating to immigrants should be no-brainers for the Legislature to pass and for Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign into law.
Others appear tricky for Rauner because of anti-immigrant sentiment fomented by President Donald Trump. Rauner already is in re-election mode for 2018 and probably does not want to alienate conservatives who buy into the GOP mantra that immigrants are stealing jobs from Americans.
If a bill seems dicey to Rauner, it becomes perilous to the rest of the Illinois GOP because he has the money to make or break candidates come election time. Republicans are inclined to look to him before they vote on bills.
Here’s a run-down on bills related to immigrants that could reach the governor’s desk and one that won’t thanks to Rauner. Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez of Cicero, who represents Latino and immigrant communities, is chief sponsor or co-sponsor of each bill:
♦ The Illinois Trust Act: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would call this a sanctuary bill. It would force U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to provide criminal warrants when it wants city and county cops to help arrest or detain undocumented immigrants. It would not prevent ICE from rounding up immigrants on its own.
It also could help to bring back normalcy in immigrant communities, where restaurants and stores have taken a hit because immigrants — documented and undocumented — worry they will be picked up by cops or ICE. Backers of the bill say it would help strained relations between local cops and immigrant communities.
My prediction: Rauner will point to the Trump administration’s attempt to withdraw some federal funding from municipalities that already have sanctuary ordinances and say he cannot afford to put Illinois at risk. That would be a shame since he is on the record saying he supports immigration reform. This would help to protect immigrants in Illinois whose only crime is crossing into the U.S. illegally. The bill had no Republican support when it passed in the Senate. The funding withdrawal from the Trump administration is being fought in court over constitutional concerns.
♦ Professional licensing: This one is a no-brainer that some Republicans support. It would allow undocumented immigrants who have authorization to work to become licensed pharmacists.
♦ University of Illinois Trustees Act amendment: This bill would correct an error the Legislature made three years ago when it allowed out-of-state students who established Illinois residency to become student trustees. The law requires that trustees be registered to vote in Illinois. That means immigrant students, despite being Illinois residents, no longer can run for trustee. Federal law prohibits immigrants from voting unless they get U.S. citizenship.
The Legislature corrected the error last year, but Rauner vetoed the amendment because he objected to a loophole allowing non-residents to serve. The loophole is being closed, and the bill merits Rauner’s signature. Republicans in the Senate, except for Leader Christine Radogno, gave it the cold shoulder, but it still passed 33-15.
♦ Higher Education Student Assistance Act: This bill would make students who are undocumented immigrants eligible for scholarships and grants administered by universities. Monetary Award Program grants would be excluded, a compromise hammered out by Hernandez and Martinez when they sponsored a similar bill last year. Hernandez included a provision to allow students with prior drug offenses to receive aid, which is important to some in the Black Caucus. They are working on an amendment with Republicans to define which drug offenses could be forgiven, Hernandez’s spokesman told me.
♦ School code amendment: Rauner killed this one early, while it was in committee. It would have eliminated confusion between a federal mandate on bilingual education and an Illinois law requiring all school instruction be given in English, she said. Hernandez says she sponsored the bill only because the Illinois State Board of Education asked her to. ISBE is run by Rauner’s people, so she assumed the governor and Republicans would back it. But the bill got no votes from Republicans while it was in committee. Hernandez said she wouldn’t proceed without Republican support. “If I do,” she said, “it’s going to die.”
An ISBE spokeswoman says that small section of the law is obsolete. It should come off the books. But the governor’s office questioned “why this bill was not included in the usual clean-up package from the State Board of Education,” his spokeswoman, Eleni Demertzis, said by email.
The bill’s synopsis says it repeals a section “requiring instruction in all public elementary and secondary schools to be in the English language.” I have to wonder if that’s too loaded for the Illinois GOP.
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