Durbin urges support for immigration reform

Dick Durbin

Sen. Dick Durbin: “there’s a big job ahead of us.” Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services (click on image for larger file size)

“We need to pass this. We may never get another chance,” Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday as he urged community advocates to support an immigration reform bill passed by the Senate and headed to the House.

Speaking at a forum Monday sponsored by UIC and the Latino Policy Forum, Durbin defended the bill, which includes a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. without documentation and $46 billion for stricter border enforcement.

“This bill isn’t perfect,” Durbin said of the Senate bill, which passed 68-32 June 27. “I made compromises I never wanted to make. But the current situation is cruel, inhuman and unfair.”

Immigration reform faces a difficult road in the Republican-led House, where Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago “has done more than any member of congress to sit down with Republicans and work this out,” said Durbin, who worked to put together the Senate coalition that negotiated the bill.

“We need to have people organized by community, ready to respond in a respectful way to members of Congress, to say, ‘we want you to support this,’” he said.

“It means organizing, district by district, state by state. There’s a big job ahead of us. We’ve achieved quite a bit, we have more to go.”

In 2001, controversy arose when Durbin introduced the DREAM Act, which would give legal residency under certain conditions to undocumented young people who are high school graduates, college students or in the military. Since then, the political climate has changed, Durbin said.

“People have started accepting the reality of a diverse America,” he said.

Simple politics also made a difference as voter demographics changed, he added.

But the most powerful force has been the growing movement of “Dreamers,” he said — young people who came to the U.S. without documentation as children.

Despite the risk of deportation, “they stopped waiting in the shadows. They started telling their stories and the conversations started changing.”

Durbin admitted the 10-year process for citizenship outlined in the Senate bill  — which includes requirements for family income level, fines, a criminal background check and English language proficiency — would not be easy.

“The pathway is tough, but the pathway is there,” he said. “The vast majority of people will live up to those standards and they’ll make it.

“If we didn’t put that pathway in there, 11 million people would be stuck here with no future.”

Undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children would be eligible to apply for citizenship in five years; until then, they would be eligible for student loans and college work study financial aid for college.

The Senate immigrant bill also expands the H-1B visa program for skilled foreign workers.

Immigration reform supporters include business, manufacturing and technology firms, organized labor and religious groups, especially the Catholic and evangelical community, Durbin said.

“Immigration reform will bring up wages for all workers and increase economic growth,” he said. “Immigration is good for economic growth in America — we have a history to prove that.”

The forum, held at the UIC Forum, included a discussion by representatives of several organizations concerned with immigrant rights, as well as UIC professor Maria de los Angeles Torres, director of Latin American and Latino studies.

Torres said the impact of the Senate bill on higher education needs more attention.

“The ability for someone to access higher education is critical,” she said.

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