Local groups herald senators' bipartisan immigration proposal

Updated 1/29/2013 10:32 AM
  • Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois Durbin and seven other senators announced plans Monday for immigration reform.

    Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois Durbin and seven other senators announced plans Monday for immigration reform. Associated Press

Local immigration groups are heralding a bipartisan immigration reform proposal presented Monday by a group of U.S. senators, and even those traditionally opposed to such plans cite a need for change.

"Knowing that both parties are working on solutions is important," Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights CEO Lawrence Benito said. "Given the numbers in the House of Representatives, we need Republicans on board."

The four-pronged proposal -- which has yet to be written into legislation -- would grant temporary legal status and create a route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It comes less than three months after the November election demonstrated the growing importance of Latino voters and their increasing commitment to Democrats.

"We've been down this road before but I feel very good about our chances this time," Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, of Illinois, said in an interview.

Durbin and seven other senators, Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Chuck Schumber of New York, and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona, announced the plan at an afternoon news conference in Washington, D.C., a day before President Barack Obama's expected remarks on immigration reform.

The debate will play out at the start of Obama's second term, as he aims to spend the political capital afforded him by his re-election victory on an issue that has eluded past presidents and stymied him during his first term despite his promises to the Latino community to act.

"We're a long way from having legislative language," McCain said. However, he expressed hopes for success with a "reasonable amount of political give and take."

The senators' proposal calls for securing the country's borders, reforming the legal immigration system, making sure employers do not hire undocumented workers, and creating a way for workers to come and work in the U.S. legally.

Durbin called the DREAM Act, legislation he introduced 12 years ago to provide a path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants, "a force in this whole debate."

Passage of legislation by the full Democratic-controlled Senate is far from assured, but the tallest hurdle could come in the House, which is dominated by conservative Republicans who've shown little interest in immigration reform.

"When it comes to bipartisanship, we've seen that Boehner can't pull it together," Durbin said, referring to recent votes on the fiscal cliff and Hurricane Sandy Relief, where a majority of Republicans voted against each package.

Like McCain, suburban members of Illinois' congressional delegation from both sides of the aisle largely expressed cautious optimism for reform, while carefully avoiding directly attaching themselves to a proposal that is still largely vague.

Democratic Rep. Bill Foster, of Naperville, called the proposal an "important first step."

Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren, of Winfield, said he is looking forward to studying the proposal, along with other proposals, in the months ahead.

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said he is "encouraged" by the bipartisan effort and planned on conducting a thorough review of the legislation.

As that happens, local Republicans expressed hopes that some form of immigration reform could help the party as a whole.

"I think that the Latino community has a lot more in common with the Republican beliefs and value system," state Rep. Dennis Reboletti, of Elmhurst, said. "That really plays into our wheelhouse. But we're not communicating to the people that are immigrating here."

Yet, Reboletti warned, "the devil's in the details."

As more details are unveiled, the Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee rights says it will work to bring the issue home to lawmakers, formally launching a "keeping families together" campaign with a symposium at Chicago's Malcolm X College and an upcoming bus tour through the state.

"We want to highlight the impact on families as a result of failed immigration policies," Benito said. "We're going to look at our congressional delegation, see who's with us. Work on educating them, district by district."

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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