With Democrats pouncing on comments he made about one of the nation’s hottest hot-button issues, Gov. Bruce Rauner sought to clear the air on Wednesday — arguing that while he believes illegal immigration contributes to crime in Chicago, he is not calling the immigrants themselves criminals.

One day after his remarks at a Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board ignited a partisan firestorm, the governor complained he was the victim of “false political spin.”

But Rauner on Wednesday used some seemingly circular logic to back away from the controversial comments, essentially repeating that he sees a link between crime and illegal immigration during a Northwest Side campaign stop.

But the Republican governor said he didn’t believe the undocumented are “acting violently or doing the violence themselves.” He said illegal immigrants take jobs away from legal citizens — contributing to unemployment, which then can lead to crime.

Gov. Bruce Rauner talks to workers at Midco International in the Northwest Side’s Sauganash neighborhood on Wednesday. Photo by Tina Sfondeles.

Gov. Bruce Rauner talks to reporters at Midco International in the Northwest Side’s Sauganash neighborhood on Wednesday. Photo by Tina Sfondeles.

A day earlier at the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board meeting, Rauner was asked where immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, fit into the state’s economy.

“I support legal immigration. Legal immigration has built America, and I support streamlining it and simplifying it,” Rauner said. “Illegal immigration takes jobs away from Americans and hold down wages. Hurts union workers, farm workers, factory workers. Hurts wages and raises unemployment.”

When asked if he had unemployment figures to back that statement, the governor said yes: “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 in Chicago.”

Rauner’s Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker’s campaign leaped on that statement, saying Rauner “blamed immigrants for crime in Chicago, demonizing entire communities with a vicious attack that may as well have come directly from Donald Trump’s mouth.” And Democratically aligned faith-based groups, unions and community groups planned to call Rauner “irresponsible, divisive and Trump-like” at a news conference on Thursday.

Speaking at a campaign event at Midco International in the Northwest Side’s Sauganash neighborhood, Rauner tried to clarify his statements — saying violence “in part, not entirely, in part is created by lack of economic opportunity.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner talks to workers at Midco International in the Northwest Side’s Sauganash neighborhood on Wednesday. Photo by Tina Sfondeles.

Gov. Bruce Rauner talks to workers at Midco International in the Northwest Side’s Sauganash neighborhood on Wednesday. Photo by Tina Sfondeles.

And he insisted that he did not directly link illegal immigration to crime.

“No, I did not say that. Look at what I said. This is important. To be crystal clear. Unemployment contributes to violence. OK. That’s a fact. Fact two, undocumented illegal immigrants take jobs away that would be otherwise taken by Americans. That’s true. And also illegal immigration holds down wages, because if there’s more people competing for the same job, wages are held down. Fewer people and more jobs pushes wage up,” Rauner said. “So what I said yesterday was illegal undocumented immigrants hold down wages and take jobs away from Americans and therefore, can contribute to the unemployment, which can contribute to violence. I never said and I do not believe that immigrants are somehow acting violently or doing violence themselves. I did not say that, and that’s not the case.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker met in a debate Tuesday at the Sun-Times. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker met in a debate Tuesday at the Sun-Times. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Highlighting their different views on immigration, Pritzker told the Editorial Board that immigrants in Illinois “are good for the economy of the state.”

“We have immigrants here who are not protected — under attack by President Trump,” Pritzker said. “He stands with President Trump on this, I do not.”

Rauner’s signing of the Trust Act last year got him into some hot water with the state’s conservatives and was used as ammunition by primary challenger state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton. The law restricts local law enforcement from collaborating with federal immigration agents to detain anyone unless the feds have a warrant.

Still, Rauner has said he does not support sanctuary cities or Illinois being a sanctuary state.

“We should not be tying the hands of any property owners in the state or supporting illegal immigration in that way,” Rauner said in a downstate interview on WJPF in August — the same day he vetoed three immigration measures.

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