Today, former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar advised the Illinois business community -- as well as the state's GOP politicians -- to get behind comprehensive immigration reform.
"There is no doubt in my mind," said former Gov. Jim Edgar this morning, "that the immigrant community brought a vitality to the Illinois economy. Often when I would be out and about, visiting the various communities, I would meet with recent immigrants and I would see their enthusiasm to move ahead, to be successful, to work, to raise a family -- all those things that are vital to having a strong economy here in Illinois."
Edgar's remarks came during his keynote address at the launch of the newly-formed Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, an iniative spearheaded by the Illinois Coailition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The coalition includes over 200 businesses that "support comprehensive immigration reform that legalizes the current undocumented workforce, creates new legal channels for future foreign workers and implements smart and effective enforcement measures."
Before Edgar took the podium, various other business leaders voiced their support for reform at the national level. "Sound immigration policy is critical to the health of this economy and our industry," said Sheila O'Grady, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association. "Immigration reform means more consumer spending," added Omar Duque, who heads the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "Immigration reform means more tax revenue. And it needs to happen now -- not next year, not after 2010 -- it needs to happen now."
Backing up Duque's comments are figures showing that illegal immigrants now make up five percent of the workforce in Chicago and deporting every undocumented worker in Illinois would cost hte state $11.4 billion in economic output and almost 120,000 jobs.
Juan Ochoa, CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, summed up the reason for the formation of the coalition: "One thing that has been missing [from the immigration discussion] is the leadership of our business community," he said. "They have been absent at best."
In his speech, Edgar tried to remind his audience that comprehensive immigration reform represents an effort to "face reality" and he got a bit emotional when reflecting on his own immigrant roots. Watch an excerpt:
While it's rare to see a high-profile Illinois Republican standing with ICIRR and the immigrant rights community, it shouldn't be surprising in this particular case. Since 2008, Edgar has been warning his GOP colleagues that they oppose immigration reform efforts at their own peril. Talking to reporters after the event today, he did the same, saying that this could be a "disastrous political issue for the Republican Party if we are viewed as anti-immigration." Watch it:
As we noted earlier today, now that the health care battle has subsided in Washington, there seems to be newfound energy -- both here in Illinois and nationwide -- around the issue of immigration. Next up: A ICIRR rally in Chicago this Saturday featuring Sen. Dick Durbin. More info on that here.