Oberweis, Rauner refuse to back Senate-approved immigration reform measure

The two candidates at the top of the Illinois Republican ticket this fall spoke at an event Tuesday designed to pressure the state’s GOP congressional delegation to pass sweeping immigration changes, but both refused to give their outright support for the legislation that’s already passed the U.S. Senate.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jim Oberweis said he is against a provision in the measure that would give a pathway to citizenship for adult immigrants already in the country illegally, saying it amounts to “amnesty.” Meanwhile, GOP governor candidate Bruce Rauner would not say if he backed the proposal, saying he hadn’t studied it and arguing that it’s up to Congress and President Barack Obama to negotiate the details.

The comments came at an event hosted by the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, a group of businesses interests from across the state that wants immigration reform. The organization particularly has sought out the support of the Republican Party, which is attempting to rebrand itself by reaching out to women and minority voters.

Indeed, Oberweis has sought to soften his stance on the issue. In 2004, Oberweis was strongly attacked after running TV ads during his second U.S. Senate bid that showed him flying over Soldier Field in a helicopter, contending enough “illegal aliens” cross the border and steal jobs to “fill Soldier Field every single week.” That figure was fiercely disputed, and Oberweis has since called the spot “a mistake.”

On Tuesday, Oberweis acknowledged that he has “been perceived as a hawk on the issue of illegal immigration,” saying he regrets the “harsh tone of my rhetoric ten years ago.” But he argued that his principles in favor of strong border control remain, and argued that adults who enter the United States illegally should not be given a “shortened path to citizenship.”

Rather, Oberweis said illegal immigrants already in the country should be offered “non-immigrant visas” to allow them to stay in the country and should be required to “apply for citizenship like anybody else.” Oberweis said he would support a path to citizenship for children who were brought to the country illegally by their parents.

“I think it’s important that Democrats be willing to compromise,” said Oberweis, of Sugar Grove, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in the Nov. 4 general election. “I think Republicans certainly are willing to support the right kind of reforms.”

The Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate approved the immigration package last year. Under the measure, immigrants would be able to transition to legal permanent resident status in 10 years after a number of security features are put in place including drones and 20,000 new Border Patrol officers. To qualify, immigrants must also pay various fines and fees, learn English and pass background checks.

While Rauner would not speak to specifics of the federal legislation, he said he supports “comprehensive” reform that “should include pathways to citizenship.” Rauner, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, contended it must become easier to immigrate to the U.S. legally in order for people to “come here legally and work hard and be part of the American dream.”

A Quinn campaign spokeswoman contended that Rauner was “pretending” to support immigration reform, arguing that the Winnetka businessman has donated thousands of dollars to activists and politicians who are against immigration. Rauner said he’s contributed money to many candidates, saying he doesn’t “think there’s a politician existing anywhere who I agree with 100 percent.”

Rauner called the attack “typical baloney” from Quinn, and said he supported measures Quinn signed into law that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for state driver’s licenses and provide college scholarships for undocumented students.

mcgarcia@tribune.com
Twitter @moniquegarcia

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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