Immigrant status under fire

By Darryl Holliday

Legislation currently working its way through the Illinois General Assembly is heating up debate over the state’s approach to immigration.

The Taxpayers Protection Act, introduced by Republican Representative Randy Ramey Jr., 55th District, on Feb. 17, would compel law enforcement to determine the immigration status of individuals when any lawful stop, detention or arrest is made. It would also penalize employers who employ undocumented residents, immigrants not carrying a resident permit and individuals who willingly transport or shield the undocumented.

The act mirrors Arizona’s new immigration law, which prompted mass protest from immigration activists last year.

According to Ramey, though, his bill has nothing to do with immigration but instead with its economic ties.

“The people in the state are illegal aliens, and they’re reaping benefits and not paying into the system,” Ramey said. “The people paying into the system are called taxpayers, and that’s why it’s called the Taxpayers Protection Act … [The legislation] is exactly the same as Arizona’s.”

However, the bill is in strong contrast tolaws that have been in place in Chicago for the last 25 years, which state that city officials are not mandated to inquire about or report immigration status—largely contributing to the city’s reputation as a “sanctuary city” for immigrants, and accounting, in part, for the large number of immigrants present within its borders. The legislation would prohibit sanctuary cities in Illinois.

“[The bill] is based on this canard that undocumented immigrants are costing Illinois taxpayers inordinate amounts of money—so the solution is to get rid of all the undocumented immigrants,” said Fred Tsao, policy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “This approach completely ignores the economic contributions undocumented immigrants make to our economy.”

According to Tsao, undocumented immigrants pay taxes in the form of sales, property and income taxes. They also create general revenue through consumer spending and high rates of local business ownership.

“To leave out the economic productivity they generate is completely shortsighted,” Tsao said.

The bill was moved to the General Assembly’s Executive Committee on Feb. 23, where it currently awaits a ruling before potentially moving to the Illinois House of Representatives. However, the deadline for moving the bill out of the committee—which contains four members of the Latino caucus—is March 17. After that day, it will be significantly more difficult to move the act forward.

If successfully passed out of the committee, Ramey is confident he would have enough support to pass it out of the House.

“The problem is that the speaker [Rep. Michael J. Madigan] has decided it’s not legislation he wants to talk about,” said Ramey, also noting that he will continue to push for similar acts, as he has for the past four years.

Estimating that undocumented immigrants cost the state $4.5 billion through tax dollars paid to health care, prisons and education on their behalf, Ramey argues that his proposal is a means to alleviate the approximately $13 billion deficit the state faces.

The biggest concern is that such legislation would exacerbate problems between law enforcement and immigrant communities, according to Tsao, making it more likely undocumented immigrants will avoid collaboration with police by not reporting crimes and refusing to serve as witnesses in trials because of fears of deportation.

“It boils down to four words: Illinois is not Arizona,” Tsao said. “This legislation is so antithetical to the spirit that this state has had toward welcoming immigrants and to the prevailing political climate.”

A state bill, HJR0119, which condemned the enactment of Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation last year, seems to support this claim. The bill made it to the Senate floor after passing in the House, where it remains stalled indefinitely.

After the protest of the Taxpayers Act on the part of immigrant rights activists, many Chicago organizations hope they outnumber pro forces regarding the bill.

“I’m not going to say it will never pass, but it’s our hope that it will not go through, and it’s our intention to stop it,” Tsao said.