Proponents of immigration reform pled their case again to lawmakers Tuesday morning to overhaul the country’s immigration system.
On Tuesday, Northern Illinois University’s Naperville campus hosted the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition and its panel of speakers from the world of non-profit organizations, businesses and educational institutions attempting to sway lawmakers to take up a comprehensive immigration bill.
Panelists included NIU President Douglas Baker, World Relief DuPage Aurora Director Emily Gray, students from NIU and Wheaton College and members of the business community. Collectively, they argued that the country had both an economic incentive and moral imperative to pass a comprehensive bill addressing a path to citizenship, border security, and special consideration for highly-skilled workers, similar to the bill passed by the Senate in June.
“The Senate bill that has been passed is acceptable for us as far as bipartisan compromise goes,” moderator Sam Scott, co-chairman of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, said, noting the bill’s support among both Senate Democrats and Republicans. “The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the proposed Senate Bill will cut our deficit by $200 million over the next 10 years, and in the second 10 years will save another $700 million.”
The Northern Illinois location added an academic and student perspective to the debate. Baker discussed the steps that NIU has taken to assist undocumented students gain entry and succeed at the university, and discussed the importance of ensuring that students have opportunities to learn and contribute.
The sentiment was echoed by an NIU junior and panelist, who goes by the name Christian, who told her story of emigrating to this country as a child and working her way through school to become an honors student facing an uncertain future.
“Education is the solution to our problems, and I am an educated, undocumented student,” Christian said. “I am not part of the problem, I am part of one million solutions.”
Panelists also told the 50 or so people gathered at the event that there was a moral imperative to making sure that immigrants like Christian are welcomed into American society.
Grey, of World Relief, argued for the moral and religious imperatives of immigration reform, retelling the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers, driven to immigrate to Egypt after famine drove them from their homeland. She stressed the importance of a personal relationship between immigrants and their neighbors in reshaping how people think about immigration.
“Folks who know Joseph, who know immigrants, and love immigrants and see immigrants, and especially those from traditionally conservative places like our churches, have got to start talking with an even louder voice to our representatives to say we can’t do this thing piecemeal,” Grey said. “They need to hear it from the churches, they need to hear it from the schools that we have the best chance that I’ve seen in 30 year of passing this, and we’ve got to step it up.”
But, Tuesday’s panel was largely singing to the choir. Staff members from the offices of Reps. Bill Foster (D-Naperville), Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Channahon) were in attendance Tuesday.
Foster and Rush support the comprehensive bill passed by the Senate in June. Only Kinzinger has been more critical of the idea of a comprehensive bill. In the past he said he favors a piecemeal approach that puts border security first.
“We have honest hardworking generally sincere congressmen working for us ... they’re supportive of smart things that make sense for this state,” said Manny Sanchez, panelist and founder of one of the country’s largest minority-owned law firms. “I think it behooves us to make clear that it’s the Christian thing to do, it’s the conservative thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do and most importantly it’s the right thing to do for this country in 2013 to take advantage of this opportunity.”