For most of his time in politics, Gov. Bruce Rauner has cast himself on immigration matters as a moderate, immigrant-friendly businessman, embracing the safe position of “comprehensive immigration reform.”
As proof of his moderate views, Rauner quietly supported renewal of a state health insurance program that included coverage for low-income undocumented children. He later drew accusations from conservatives that he’d made Illinois a “sanctuary state” by signing the TRUST Act limiting the role of state and local law enforcement in immigration enforcement.
On Tuesday, though, you’d have thought the governor had been deputized by the U.S. Border Patrol and signed on to President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
In Trumpian tones, Rauner told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board that illegal immigrants were to blame not only for high unemployment in the city, but also for its crime problems, a view pushed mainly by the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Illegal immigration takes jobs away from Americans and holds down wages, hurts union workers, farm workers, factory worker, hurts wages and raises unemployment. That’s a fact,” Rauner said.
“One of the reasons 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,” he continued.
Asked directly whether he was blaming Chicago’s violence on illegal immigrants, Rauner said: “I’m saying that the unemployment is higher and wages are lower because we have so much illegal immigration.”
Of course, that isn’t quite what he said the first time, but he never tried to take it back either.
Rauner accused his Democratic opponent, J.B. Pritzker, of wanting to create more “sanctuary cities” in Illinois.
Pritzker countered by saying immigrants are “good for the economy” and that it’s the responsibility of the governor to protect undocumented immigrants living in the state.
“We’re not going to send 11 or 12 million people outside the United States. That shouldn’t be done. We have a state that should be a welcoming state,” Pritzker said.
“He stands with President Trump on this. I do not,” added Pritzker, who also favors comprehensive immigration reform.
I’m not trying to suggest any flip-flop on Rauner’s part. Indeed, I would say these were always his views, mostly expressed in private.
It’s more a matter of emphasis.
When Rauner thought there was an advantage to be gained with Latino voters in particular by being immigrant-friendly, he emphasized his desire for immigration reform, including a path toward citizenship — which conservatives often call amnesty.
Now that Rauner needs to shore up his Republican base and attract Trump’s supporters, he’s putting his emphasis on immigration enforcement.
Normally, a statewide Republican candidate in Illinois facing a general election would move to the middle on issues such as immigration to appeal to independent voters.
But Rauner is also facing an unusual third party challenge from Republican state Sen. Sam McCann, of Plainview, who is running under the banner of the Conservative Party. McCann is attacking Rauner for being soft on immigration, as did the governor’s primary opponent, Rep. Jeanne Ives, to great effect.
Beginning this summer, when Rauner vetoed three immigration-related bills and started making noises about illegal immigration causing unemployment, he has been tacking to the right.
But this was believed to be the first time he had lumped crime into the equation.
Who knows? Given his low standing in the public opinion polls, maybe it will help him. It seems to work for Trump.
But Josh Hoyt, one of the state’s leading immigrant advocates, had a different take.
“Well, you can lose with honor,” Hoyt said, “or you can just lose.”