SPRINGFIELD – Democrats who control the Illinois General Assembly pushed back last spring against Republican President Donald Trump’s hardline stance on immigration, aiming to protect Illinois residents regardless of their residency status and, in some cases, firing off direct repudiation of the nation’s top executive.
Illinois is not alone. State-level legislation related to immigration increased 110 percent during Trump’s first year in office, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many directly dealt with immigrant and refugee rights as well as with compliance with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Here’s a look at policies Illinois lawmakers approved in their spring session, all of which await action by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Immigration safe zones
State-funded facilities, including courthouses and public schools, would be encouraged to limit all efforts to enforce federal immigration law. The initiative follows reports of ICE agents making arrests at courthouses in Chicago and across the country.
Already, local law enforcement can’t cooperate with ICE unless there’s a federal criminal warrant, thanks to a law from last year.
The new plan by Sen. Don Harmon takes it one step further by encouraging state employees to limit their cooperation with immigration agents. The Oak Park Democrat agrees it’s modest, but he hopes it eventually leads to a prohibition on such cooperation.
“We want people in Illinois, notwithstanding their immigration status, to feel comfortable taking their children to the doctor or attending a parent-teacher conference,” Harmon said. “There’s understandably an enormously high level of angst about the over-the-top immigration police efforts from the federal government.”
The idea is in line with a 2011 ICE memorandum advising agents to avoid enforcement at “sensitive locations” including schools, day cares and medical facilities. But neither the ICE advisory nor Harmon’s legislation prohibits cooperation.
Trump faced withering criticism as a candidate in 2016 when he said he would entertain the idea of tracking refugees and Muslims residing in the country. Trump has backed off the idea, but Illinois legislation would prohibit participation in a registry of information solely on a person’s race, religion or gender identity.
To local immigration advocates, the legislation has taken on new significance following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this past week upholding the president’s authority to restrict travel into the U.S. based on a person’s country of origin.
The anti-registry measure is a strong condemnation of an attempt to “single people out solely based on their religion, national origin, or other characteristics,” said Lawrence Benito, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Protections for immigrants
Other legislative efforts would expand protections for immigrants already in Illinois.
One initiative would allow anyone to apply for a professional license regardless of immigration status. That means applying to become pharmacists or teachers, for example, without having to provide proof of citizenship. It was approved on party lines in the House, with Republicans objecting that immigrants who are in the country illegally are breaking the law and shouldn’t be allowed to apply.
Sen. Iris Martinez, the sponsor, said many immigrants are able to work here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals law, which exempts those brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The Trump administration has repeatedly threatened to end the program. Martinez wants to end the uncertainty for many of the so-called Dreamers.
“We have so many of our DACA students graduating from our universities,” the Chicago Democrat said. “We want to assure that they will not have any problems when it comes to their profession.”
Another measure would prevent landlords from harassing or evicting tenants solely based on immigration or citizenship status. And a third would streamline the process for immigrants who are victims of crimes or domestic violence to gain temporary citizenship.
All of the efforts are a small step toward combating a “broken” immigration system that doesn’t provide a comprehensive path to citizenship, said Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for the Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
“Rather than stupidly trying to enforce the immigration laws to punish everyone regardless of their individual circumstances or what they add to this country,” Tsao said, “we should be extending those opportunities for these people to become full members of our society.”