People in other countries who aspire to the idea of democracy on which the United States was formed should not be discouraged from aspiring to live here, 6th District U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam told the Daily Herald's editorial board Monday.
Roskam said the U.S. should be open to any immigrants who value the "great idea" on which the nation was founded and should not shut out people from countries President Donald Trump described with disparaging language Thursday.
"This is a very special country. And it sounds self-evident, but it really bears repeating: The U.S. is the only country that's based on an idea," Roskam said. "So we ought not be critical of people around the world that aspire to be here and to be disparaging toward people that want to be among us. And we want those very people to be among us."
Roskam said he would support a way for people living under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program "to get right with the law."
Roskam, a 56-year-old Wheaton Republican, shared his views on immigration in the wake of Trump's comments about Haiti and nonspecific African nations revealed by Illinois' senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dick Durbin of Springfield.
"In the course of his comments, President Donald Trump said things that were hate-filled, vile and racist," Durbin said in a written statement after a meeting about a proposed bipartisan immigration deal. "He used those words, and he used them repeatedly," Durbin wrote. "I cannot believe that in the history of the White House, in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday."
Roskam said "I think it's very likely" Trump made the comments Durbin described.
On Monday, Roskam said the statements, if true, represent one of the reasons the president is "a controversial and mercurial figure."
"He leaves a lot of influence on the table by those types of comments," Roskam said. "And it is regrettable."
Roskam, the target of seven Democratic candidates running in a March 20 primary for the chance to face him in November, said he thinks most residents in the 6th District could support immigration law changes to address participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and to increase border security.
"I think most people in the 6th District would say they're interested in getting a solution, in breaking it down sort of one thing at a time," Roskam said. "That's the disposition that I'm trying to bring to this debate to say, let's get that done."
On a massive policy area such as immigration, Roskam, in office since 2007, said trying to be "comprehensive" is trying to do too much at once.
"There's very little capacity to get something big done on something as controversial as immigration," he said, "without breaking it down."