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Article updated: 4/7/2013 11:33 PM

Palatine panel discusses immigration reform

By Steve Zalusky

Immigration reform was the subject of a panel discussion organized by local Democrats Sunday at Palatine's Twin Lakes Recreation Area.

"Immigration Reform: Why it Matters, Locally and Nationally," was hosted by the Palatine and Wheeling Township Democrats and Northwest Suburbs Organizing for Action (NWSOFA), a group of volunteers who had worked on President Obama's re-election campaign.

Holly Kerr, of the Social Action Justice Committee at North Shore Unitarian Church, outlined some of the major points in the new proposals being considered in Washington.

"Currently, our immigration system, as broken as it is, is based on the concept of family reunification," she said.

Now, however, she said the focus is shifting toward the most talented pool of immigrants who have legally applied.

"What this really means is that they want to couch all of this in terms of economics, in terms of what is economically best for the United States," she said. "The guess is there is going to be some kind of trade-off between making it easier for people who have the kinds of skills, the kinds of talents that the economy needs, versus family reunification."

Kerr said Illinois is fortunate in having representation from Sen. Dick Durbin and Congressman Luis Gutierrez, but Sen. Mark Kirk "has in the past been not very hospitable to ideas about immigration reform."

"The fact that he came out in favor of same-sex marriage, my hope is that maybe he had a conversion experience that will affect him along these lines, too, because I think it is as much a civil rights issue as gay marriage is," Kerr said.

Tim Bell, of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, which has an office in Rolling Meadows and supplies temporary workers, painted a picture of the local situation with a story about a temporary employee at a Burger King who obtained work using a false identification.

"Whenever you create a system where you're checking people's identity and papers in order to go to work, what inevitably happens is that you create a whole system of false identities. That's what we have had in this country since 1986," Bell said. "In some cases ... you have as much as five or six layers of contractors before you ever get to the name-brand company which is receiving the benefit of that very lowly paid, poorly treated workforce."

Maria Salazar, representing the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said she came to the suburbs in 1997 and was undocumented for 10 years. She said she still has relatives who are undocumented, including an uncle who has been here for 20 years.

She said every day 1,100 families are separated. Since 2009, she said more than 56,000 children have been separated from their parents and are now in foster care.

Salazar called for a moratorium on deportations, since it would not make sense to deport those who would qualify under immigration reform.

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