An summit geared towards the immigrant community Saturday highlighted Illinois’ pro-immigrant policies and also controversy between Cook County and federal immigration officials.
The Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which has 130 member organizations, held their 2nd annual Illinois Immigrant Integration Summit at Malcolm X College, featuring appearances by Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, among other officials.
The summit was friendly territory for Quinn, coming off a “State of the State” address last week that many panned for not confronting the state’s budget problems.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago (D-4) warmly introduced Quinn as the first governor in the nation to opt out of Secure Communities, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention and deportation program. Gutierrez also lauded the governor for signing the Illinois Dream Act.
A gymnasium full of ICIRR allies – including Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton – gave Quinn an energized ovation. See the video of Gutierrez and Quinn here:
In his remarks, the governor focused on implementing the Illinois Dream Act, the 2011 law that created a privately funded scholarship program for undocumented students. “Scholarships are so important in our state and our country because they reward hard work,” Quinn said.
Quinn named a seven-member DREAM Fund commission of education, business, and immigrant leaders to raise money for scholarships.
The governor also directly addressed one key budget item: His desire to preserve social services.
“We have a tough budget, but we don’t want to cut back on human services,” Quinn said. “We want to invest in social services to help families, especially children.”
Durbin and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle spoke earlier in the morning. Here are excerpts from their speeches:
Preckwinkle urged people to attend a Cook County Commissioner hearing this Thursday to support a county ordinance subject to amendment. The ordinance, which became law in September, prohibits Cook County from honoring requests from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants charged with crimes.
An amendment by Republican Commissioner Tim Schneider (R-Streamwood) would let ICE detain immigrants charged with certain felonies or on the terrorism watch list.
Preckwinkle opposes the amendment and spoke against “efforts to embarrass us and undermine our efforts to have this country be a just place” by ordinance opponents.
Durbin assailed “voices of hate and division” against the civil rights of immigrants. “You see them on the nightly news coming from a presidential primary,” Durbin said.
The summit was not just on the political issues of the day, but also community services for immigrants.
For example, ICIRR employs 18 “Uniting America” fellows, who in workshops showed what they do across the Chicago region in realms like community beautification and walking immigrants through the citizenship process.
“We want to get people outside the mindset of just advocacy and protest,” says Uniting America fellow Alicia Williams. “It’s for people in communities to actually sit down and get to know each other.”