Emanuel, Republicans disagree on approach to immigration reform approval

A panel of Democrats and Republicans led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday agreed federal immigration reform makes sense for Chicago but differed on President Barack Obama’s record on border security and the logistics of getting something done.

Emanuel, U.S. Rep Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., met at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs to discuss the likelihood of the federal government getting something done on the politically divisive issue during an election year.

Kinzinger said there’s distrust among House Republicans that Obama will enforce tougher laws on security at the U.S. border with Mexico, which many GOP members of Congress insist be part of any immigration package. “There’s a belief on the right side of the aisle that the president is not eager to follow the laws that are passed,” Kinzinger said. “You look at the health care law and parts that have been delayed and pushed off and stuff. So this is overall reality. There’s a belief in that.”

“If we can put a guarantee in there that you have border security, and then the next steps, even if it’s a comprehensive package, I think we can get this done,” Kinzinger said.

The mayor took exception with Kinzinger’s characterization of Obama’s position on border security. “I’m going to bite my tongue so I don’t destroy the bi-partisanship up here, but I’m not going to let Adam’s statement stand untested,” Emanuel said. “First of all, as it relates to border security, the president’s record speaks for itself on enforcement without the legislation.”

“I would venture to say the attack on the president is more about camouflaging the differences within the Republican Party, because the record of the president for the last five years on border security speaks for itself,” he said.

And Emanuel said border security needs to be combined in an immigration reform package with tougher rules against employers hiring illegal immigrants to work at their  businesses. But the mayor said the two sides have broad agreement on many of the important issues.

Critics have said that as Obama’s first chief of staff, Emanuel got in the way of comprehensive immigration reform while he was Obama’s chief of staff because he thought it would hurt Democrats at the polls. As mayor, Emanuel has taken a strong pro-immigration reform stance, a position dear to Chicago’s many voters of Mexican descent.

Kinzinger said “a step by step approach” on immigration reform legislation might start coming out of the House after members who don’t want to anger anti-reform voters make it through their primary elections. “The sad thing is, I think we have to get past some of the primaries,” Kinzinger said. “But I think once we do, what we may see out of the House is a border security bill followed by high skill visas.”

The panel was held to discuss a survey released Tuesday by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that the group said showed a majority of business owners in the Midwest from both political parties favor an immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship and tighter border controls.

jebyrne@tribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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