A multiracial coalition of a dozen civil rights and faith-based groups stood outside the James R. Thompson Center on Thursday to deliver a single message to Gov. Bruce Rauner: immigrants are not the problem.
The groups called for a press conference two days after Rauner argued undocumented immigrants are to blame for “high unemployment” and “so much crime” in Chicago at a Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board with Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker.
“One of the reasons why we have such high unemployment in the city of Chicago and so much crime is the massive number of illegal immigrants here take jobs away from American citizens and Chicago citizens,” Rauner said Tuesday.
His comments immediately drew ire from immigrant rights groups who said Rauner was pivoting to “racist rhetoric” in a last-ditch effort to catch up to Pritzker who leads him by double-digits in the polls.
At Tuesday’s debate, Pritzer said Rauner’s comments “may as well have come directly from Donald Trump’s mouth.”
According to the American Immigration Council, some 450,000 undocumented immigrants live in Illinois.
Rauner tried to clarify his comments on Wednesday, saying he never meant to imply “immigrants are somehow acting violently or doing violence themselves.” Rather, “illegal undocumented immigrants hold down wages and take jobs away from Americans and therefore, can contribute to the unemployment, which can contribute to violence.”
Speakers Thursday highlighted the political bonds between immigrants and native-born citizens and denounced Rauner for throwing them under the bus without calling attention to systemic factors that contribute to Illinois’s ills.
“We are not criminals. We are hard working. We are members of a community. I’m a Chicagoan!” said a man identified as Glo K., who said he is an undocumented Korean immigrant from Arlington Heights.
“We are here to stand together as communities of color in Chicago and throughout Illinois with one message: We will not be pitted against each other for political gain,” said Mecole Jordan, executive director of United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations.
Democrat State Representatives Lisa Hernandez (24th) and Celina Villanueva (21st) derided Rauner for recently vetoing three immigration bills intended to protect undocumented immigrants in Illinois. Those bills would have increased resources for inner city youth and curbed the illegal sales of guns.
“All of these bills actually address the root of violence and unemployment in Chicago in a way he has failed to do,” the activists said in a statement — a far better solution than the “Governor’s racist rhetoric.”
Also on Thursday, a separate group of protesters disrupted an event at Mexican restaurant Mi Tierra in Little Village hosted by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. The protesters yelled, “Fuera, Rauner, Fuera!” — which means, “Out, Rauner, out!”
In a statement, Rauner’s press secretary Alex Browning did not directly respond to charges made against the governor on Thursday.
“Governor Rauner is working hard every day for all Illinoisans. He is committed to improving our state and increasing economic opportunity for all,” Browning said.