The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Michael Earls (202) 494-8555

Illinois Takes Lead on Common Sense Approach to Immigration

Gov. Quinn Terminates IL Involvement in Secure Communities Program; IL Senate Advances DREAM Act with Bi-Partisan Support


Yesterday, the state of Illinois took the lead among states - and the federal government - in advancing common sense positions on immigration reform. The state took a major step forward for sensible immigration policy, offering an important example of how other states should act until Congress finally fixes the system through comprehensive immigration reform. On the same day that Governor Pat Quinn (D-IL) issued a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, announcing that his state would no longer participate in the ineffective Secure Communities program, the Illinois State Senate overwhelmingly passed a state version of the DREAM Act.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America's Voice, "In a bold move that should put lawmakers in Washington on notice, the government of Illinois took two important steps forward yesterday in restoring common sense and rationality to the immigration debate. Just as it makes no sense to force police to participate in a program that makes their job more difficult while separating families, it makes no sense for the state to close the doors of opportunity to talented young people who are Americans in all but paperwork. It's particularly heartening to note the bi-partisan support for the DREAM Act during yesterday's vote - despite examples to the contrary in Washington, many Illinois Senate Republicans recognized that offering talented young people a chance to contribute to the state should not be a partisan issue."

In his letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announcing the state's withdrawal from the federal Secure Communities program Governor Quinn wrote that, despite the stated purpose of Secure Communities to remove serious criminals, "more than 30% of those deported from the United States, under the program, have never been convicted of any crime, much less a serious one. In fact, by ICE's own measure, less than 20% of those who have been deported from Illinois under the program have ever been convicted of a serious crime."

Governor Quinn is not alone in raising concerns about Secure Communities. Recently, Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Senator Robert Menendez have been calling for an investigation into the federal government's handling of the program, and a growing number of counties, cities, and police departments are voicing concerns about the damage this program is having on community policing. Additionally, Governor Quinn's move comes as the Illinois State House of Representatives plans to take up a bill that would allow counties to opt out of the state's agreement. California is currently considering a similar bill, the TRUST Act, that would make it possible for local governments to opt out of the Secure Communities program and set standards for cities that choose to participate. As San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey wrote in last Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, "My main criticism of Secure Communities is that it casts too wide a net and scoops up the fingerprints of everyone not born in the United States whether or not they pose a criminal risk. My department has consistently reported felons to ICE for more than a decade, and ICE typically picks up close to 1,000 people from the San Francisco County Jail each year. But I don't think people should be deported for a traffic ticket or for operating a tamale cart in the Mission." He cites the impact Secure Communities has on the relationship between immigrants and the police, and the damage it does to community policing, in explaining his opposition to the program and support for the California TRUST Act.

Meanwhile, following an extraordinary effort by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and courageous DREAMers themselves, the Illinois DREAM Act passed the state Senate by a 45-11 margin yesterday, with every Senate Democrat and 11 Senate Republicans voting in favor of the bill. Notably, the legislation would "establish a state commission to dole out privately funded scholarships to as many as 95,000 children of undocumented immigrants. No taxpayer dollars would be used." The bill now moves to the Illinois House, where lawmakers will have an opportunity to ensure that Illinois is ahead of the curve in recognizing the important benefits of this legislation on Illinois' economy and society.

America's Voice -- Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform. The mission of America's Voice is to realize the promise of workable and humane comprehensive immigration reform. Our goal is to build the public support and create the political momentum for reforms that will transform a dysfunctional immigration system that does not work into a regulatory system that does.