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LETTERS: Great Lakes states need effective regional EPA leader

Cathy Stepp will be in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 5, which oversees the EPA's operations in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. (M.P. King/Wisconsin State Journal via AP File)

Much is at stake for the new regional EPA Administrator, Cathy Stepp, who is overseeing environmental protections for six states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio) and the most significant freshwater resource in the world — the Great Lakes.

For example: drinking water for 40 million people in the Great Lakes region, the headwaters of the Mississippi River and much of the Ohio River basin.

Unfortunately, the appointment of Stepp casts further doubt about the Trump administration’s commitment to protecting our water, health and way of life.

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We’ve made great progress on protecting and restoring the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has invested over $2.4 billion in over 3,000 projects that clean up toxic pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, fight invasive species, and reduce farm and urban polluted runoff in the basin.

But we’re also facing serious challenges. The states are falling well short of that 40 percent reduction goal with no enforcement mechanism in sight. Outdated water infrastructure, poor governance and lax environmental enforcement contributed to a drinking water public health crisis in Flint, Mich.

The question is, can and will Cathy Stepp lead the EPA in the region to protect the Great Lakes and other waterways and natural resources? Her track record does not give us confidence. For seven years as the politically appointed head of the Wisconsin DNR, she was known for overseeing a precipitous drop in environmental enforcement measures, delegitimizing of scientific management of resources and scrubbing climate change from the department website. Her background — lacking formal scientific or environmental training — does not give us confidence that she can lead the EPA in a science-based manner.

The EPA Region 5 is a critical partner in protecting our waters and facilitating their recovery from the mistakes of the past. Cathy Stepp’s appointment has an opportunity now to prove us wrong. We sincerely hope that she does.

Mike Shriberg, executive director,
National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center

Marijuana vote

Cook County is about to have a non-binding vote on adult use cannabis legalization. Some would have you believe that people who use marijuana are lazy, trouble-making good-for-nothings who deserve to go to jail. It’s not true. Nor is it a compassionate, empathetic point of view.

Our ancestors began cultivating cannabis more than 10,000 years ago. Since then, there has never been a fatal overdose. People who use cannabis are productive members of society. They work, pay taxes, go to church, and volunteer in their communities. Your neighbors who use cannabis participate in the same activities that you do. I believe it is wrong to arrest people for using marijuana.

When it comes to making decisions about adult use cannabis legalization, we should follow the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Found in nearly all religious and philosophical traditions, the Golden Rule poses this question about cannabis: Would you want yourself or a loved one to go to jail over marijuana? Neither do I. I support the legalization of adult use cannabis.

Rev. Joy Grainge, Homewood

Ninth wish

Re: “8 New Year’s wishes for Chicago and Illinois,” may I suggest a ninth? And, given its urgency, maybe make it No. 1? Affordable housing. For without decent and affordable places for people of all ages, races, and finances to live, Chicago will lose what makes it worth living in: its unique diversity.

Carol LaChapelle, West Rogers Park

Chain migration

To find a solution for the approximately 800,000 DACA recipients left without hope since President Trump’s cancellation of the program in late 2017, Trump has insisted on an overhaul of the family-based immigration system, including an end to “chain migration,” which he has referred to as a “disaster for this country” and a “gateway to terrorism.”

But what is chain migration anyway? First some background. The U.S. immigration system is a patchwork of laws, regulations, precedential decisions, and rules that have built up over the course of the last 100 years or so, with the seminal Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) serving as the foundation. Among many other things, the INA sets forth who can apply for a green card, including family-sponsored immigrants, employment-sponsored immigrants, and certain other special categories.

When President Trump refers to disastrous “chain migration” he is referring to family-sponsored immigration, which allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor certain family members for a green card. However, the system does not allow of just any relative. Rather, eligible categories are specifically set out in law. Specifically, U.S. citizens may sponsor their spouse, child (including adult sons or daughters), parent, or sibling and U.S. permanent residents may sponsor their spouse or child (including unmarried adult sons or daughters). Sponsored family members may also bring their spouse and children under the age of 21 when they immigrate.

I will assume that Trump is not suggesting that we stop allowing U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their spouses and minor children for U.S. permanent residency – he likely sponsored his first wife for her green card after all. Is he saying that it is a disaster to allow citizens to sponsor their parents, siblings, and adult sons and daughters? I think most people would agree that sponsoring one’s parents for permanent residence is valuable and not a threat to our country.

Canada, for instance, whose “merit-based” immigration system Trump has praised, even allows for sponsorship of grandparents. That leaves us with the question of whether a citizen should be able to sponsor their siblings or adult sons and daughters for permanent residence? That is a legitimate question (that may depend on one’s values and/or siblings). However, before reaching a conclusion it should be noted that all immigrants undergo extensive background checks before being allowed to immigrant to the United States. In addition, other than spouses, parents, and minor children of U.S. citizens, all family-based categories are subject to strict quotas based upon the category as well as an overall quota.

In practice this means that while the spouse of a permanent resident needs to wait approximately two years for a green card today, the sibling of a U.S. citizen will wait over 10 years. This is because the visa numbers for each category are limited and all are backlogged, with more popular categories backed up significantly. Our current system does prioritize family-sponsored immigration over employment-sponsored immigration and merits review. But to say family-sponsored immigration is a disaster is both wrong and deliberately inflammatory. Unfortunately, most discussion of immigration by the president and his supporters has likewise been based on rhetoric rather than reason, and suspicion rather than fact. If we hope to achieve intelligent immigration reform terms like “chain migration” have got to go and a reasoned evaluation of the existing system, including its many flaws, undertaken.

Matthew P. Dillinger, Loop