Immigration reform and the war on drugs are issues inextricably linked, say candidates vying for the Democratic Party's nomination in the 9th Congressional District primary March 20.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky believes illegal workers should be offered a path to citizenship, while challenger Simon Ribeiro supports amnesty for illegal workers who have not been involved in any serious or violent crimes such as drug-trafficking and gang activity.
Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat who has represented the 9th Congressional District for 14 years, said President Barack Obama's latest executive order gives the government prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases.
"So people who are not felons, who pose no threat in any way, they are supposed to be down the list and really not targets for deportation," she said.
Schakowsky and Ribeiro agree the government should do a better job of securing the border with Mexico.
"It all needs to be part of comprehensive immigration reform that would make it easier for workers to go back and forth across the border," Schakowsky said. "The border wars and the drug wars that are going on, making that border area dangerous -- that is not just an immigration issue."
Ribeiro, 30, a Catholic high school teacher also from Evanston who ran as a Green Party candidate against Schakowsky in 2010, supports expanding the guest worker program for migrant workers, and accelerating the immigration process for legal workers to eliminate backlogs of applications for permanent residency.
"I don't think we could do a blanket amnesty for everybody," he said. "But I believe probably the vast majority of undocumented workers here are good people. They are paying taxes. A lot of companies are actually benefiting from their labor."
The candidates agreed immigration reform and the war on drugs also impact jobs.
Schakowsky and Ribero are both in favor of decriminalizing marijuana use.
"Our prison system is inundated with a lot of nonviolent offenders, and our court system is saturated with some of these cases," Ribeiro said. "It actually increases crime when you have this black market. We see problems with immigration, with drug trafficking."
Schakowsky said there needs to be more treatment options for drug addiction and preventive programs, beyond disrupting the supply and enforcement.
"The other thing when we think about immigration, we also have to think about trade policy," she said. "When NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) passed, a lot of the farmers in central Mexico were pretty much put out of business. And a lot of them (sneaked) across the border in order to survive. We have to think about unintended consequences. We need to have a relook at some of the trade policy as it affects workers in the United States as well as in the countries we trade with."
The newly drawn 9th District includes parts of Des Plaines, Niles, Park Ridge, Glenview, Rosemont, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows and Arlington Heights.