Enacting comprehensive immigration reform and raising the minimum wage will not be high priorities for U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren this year, he said Thursday. The 14th District Republican did express concern about the future of U.S. and Russia space relations.
Hultgren, in an interview after a luncheon discussion with Batavia constituents, said comments by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin early this week about ending Russia's participation in the International Space Station by 2020 are "a grave concern" for U.S. officials. American astronauts have relied on the use of Russian spacecrafts to both reach and return from the station since 2011 when NASA discontinued the space shuttle program.
"This is the position we've put ourselves in by discontinuing our program and not having any other real alternative in place," Hultgren said.
The House's Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which Hultgren is a member of, has not yet discussed how to respond if Russia follows through on its threat, Hultgren said.
Hultgren is running for re-election this fall against Gurnee Democrat Dennis Anderson. The 14th District includes parts of DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Lake counties.
In another problem that transcends U.S. borders, Hultgren told constituents the House is unlikely to complete comprehensive immigration reform this year. He said the Senate plan is dead in the House and probably would not even survive a revote in the Senate.
Hultgren said the major obstacle in the House is how to handle immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally, knowing they were breaking the law.
"What do we do?" Hultgren asked the audience. "Do they jump the (citizenship) line? When would they get access to benefits like Social Security? There just isn't agreement there."
Hultgren said progress will occur when Congress can agree on border security and the proper number of immigrants who should be allowed to enter the country on an annual basis.
"We have to figure out what's best for our future and our economy," Hultgren said.
Hultgren also said he's not convinced raising the minimum wage is best for the U.S. economy.
"I want people to have great wages," he said in response to an audience question. "So anything we can do to do that is great. But the priority to me is how do we get people working."
Hultgren said his high school-aged daughter works for minimum wage at a local Old Navy store. He said she is hoping for a raise in a couple months. But even in her case, he's cautious about how high entry-level wages should be.
"The studies I've seen say if the minimum wage is too high, some of these jobs go away," he said. "I don't want unemployment to go any higher. Anything we can do to bring down unemployment, that's what I want to do. That's a more fundamental issue to me."