Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce contemplates immigration reform
By Hank Beckman For The Sun March 11, 2013 5:24PM
Updated: April 14, 2013 6:15AM
Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce members heard details Monday about a comprehensive immigration reform bill likely to be introduced in the U.S. Senate this April.
“It’s a very, very tricky issue,” Cholly Smith, of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told an audience of about 30 people Monday at the chamber’s legislative lunch.
The lunch was informational only, so the chamber took no official position on the matter.
Smith stressed border security, work visas, employee verification and legalization as issues that have to be addressed before any real progress can be made on comprehensive legislation.
“We can’t do this without having all theses issues addressed,” he said.
Smith said that “significant progress has been made in recent years” with increased funding for security measures, but stressed that more would have to be done, especially in the area of developing technology.
As far as work visas are concerned, Smith said that employers need more flexibility, with 65,000 set aside annually for skilled workers, 60,000 for unskilled and an unlimited number for migrant agricultural workers.
But Smith said the department handling the migrant worker’s visas is so bogged down in bureaucracy that few even bother to use it.
Smith said that real progress has been made in employee verification, particularly in the improvement in the technology used by employers, which he called “truly trustworthy.”
But Smith said that work remains to be done to have a single national standard.
“We can’t have different standards for everyone,” he said.
Smith noted that the legalization issue would prove to be the toughest nut to crack.
He noted that the reasons a person was in the country illegally were not limited to those who had simply crossed the border illegally, pointing out that some overstayed visas, some knowingly and others who made simple mistakes.
But Smith said that, however they had arrived, of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, 7 to 8 million of them have jobs and losing them could be devastating to the economy.
“It’s kind of difficult to talk about deportation or self-deportation,” he said.
But Smith also said that no deal could be reached without immigrants paying some sort of price, whether it be paying a fine, paying taxes or proving their English proficiency.
A positive sign was an agreement that the U.S. Chamber recently reached with the AFL-CIO, one of the nation’s largest labor unions, one with a history of opposition to illegal immigration.
The three points of agreement between the two bodies are that policies should be in place to ensure American citizens get the first crack at open jobs, more flexibility in the visa program and make the legal immigration system more transparent.
Jeff B. Davis, a candidate for Naperville City Council, noted what the additional work verification meant for business and asked if government would be subject to the same regulations.
Smith said he couldn’t speak for government.
“I would hope so,” he said.
Naperville Park Board Commissioner Mike Reilly noted that, despite perceptions, many in the U.S. illegally came from countries other than Mexico and wondered how many.
Smith said he didn’t have that figure, but assured Reilly, “it’s more than you think.”
Dave Wentz, another City Council candidate, asked about the issue of driver’s license registration in Illinois.
State Sen. Linda Holmes said that a driver’s license certificate had become available that would tie loss of insurance with notification to the secretary of state.
“It meant anyone who was driving had to have insurance,” she said, stressing that the legislation had the support of the insurance companies.
But Illinois House Rep. Jeanne Ives said she wouldn’t have voted for the driver’s certificate if she had been in office and was skeptical about it’s effectiveness.
“I’m waiting to see how many people actually applied for insurance,” she said, noting that there was very little incentive for illegals to obtain insurance.
Ives and Holmes did have some common ground on the immigration issue, both expressing frustration that the federal government had not fulfilled its responsibility to control the border and run the legal immigration system efficiently.