Immigration and its enforcement took center stage in the 11th Congressional District contest for the second time in as many weeks Monday night.
But this time the audience at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in Joliet provided real-world examples of actual constituents in the district who would have loved ones impacted by congressional immigration votes.
Before Democrat Bill Foster and Republican Judy Biggert's campaigns were allowed to speak, members of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights made it clear their group, and the audience they'd invited to the forum, was in favor of the DREAM Act and decidedly against a potential for-profit immigration prison coming to Joliet.
With a biased audience in front of him, Foster restated his support for the DREAM Act as "one of my proudest votes in Congress."
The DREAM Act is a proposal to provide conditional permanent legal residency to undocumented residents who arrived in the United States as minors and have been here for at least five years. The act provides a path to permanent legal residency through military service or higher education. The act failed in Congress, but President Barack Obama implemented some portions of it through his executive powers. Republican Mitt Romney recently said he would not undo Obama's actions if elected.
Foster also said he supports comprehensive immigration reform. In the past, he's supported calls for better border fences, more border security agents and better border monitoring technology. Foster told the audience Monday he would "not always be on your side for everyone of those details" when it comes to immigration reform.
"I intend to be someone who is in the middle, hammering out a compromise," Foster said.
Biggert did not attend the forum. She was at a conflicting event in DuPage County. Brian Colgan, Biggert's district director, spoke in her place.
Colgan did not directly answer whether Biggert would vote in favor of the DREAM Act if she had another chance. She voted against it last time.
"She will work as hard as she can to make sure we pass a comprehensive immigration bill," Colgan told the audience. "The only way that these issues are going to be addressed in Washington is bringing Republicans and Democrats to the table, throw politics out the window and put everything on the table."
In a recent endorsement interview, Biggert said she supports added border security. She's opposed to a blanket amnesty.
"What happened in the 1980s, as soon as there was the amnesty we suddenly had double the numbers that were here," Biggert said. "So we do need a comprehensive immigration policy. We've got E-Verify now, and I think that that's working well," Biggert said. "It's voluntary, but I think for employers to do that is a wise thing to do. We also have to figure out the jobs. We have jobs that a lot people don't want here."
Biggert favors expansion of granting temporary, seasonal work permits for immigrants who work in agriculture.
Joliet residents also recently learned local officials are considering a plan to build a for-profit, federal immigration prison for immigrants facing deportation in the city. Speaking on behalf of Biggert, Colgan said, "Congresswoman Biggert would strongly oppose the federal government coming in and mandating what Joliet should or should not do. It's Joliet's decision."
Foster said he's all for bringing good paying jobs to Joliet, but he's personally "leery" of for-profit incarceration. Joliet officials should take a close look at the business track record of any company that wants to build a prison in Joliet, he said.
"The answer is: I'm waiting and seeing," Foster said. "I want to see the details in it. One of my biggest fears in it is that we have an immigration system that depends way too heavily on incarceration and deportation and not enough on the rule of law and systems that people can depend on to plan their lives."